By Stuart R. Levine
Published In, Forbes
Being invited to serve on a board is a coveted position. It requires thought and planning to become a valued member of any board. It’s not enough to assume that you’re qualified and ready. It’s critical that you take smart steps to develop your resources and skills into assets that will showcase your credentials and position you for success. Last week’s workshop at the NACD “Beyond Borders Convergence – 2016 Global Board Leader’s Summit” focused on this very subject – Landing Your Next Board Seat. Here are the top six actionable ways that were highlighted by experts in this field during the workshop, to enhance your ability to land your next board seat.
1. Craft Your Reputation
Your reputation is a key differentiator and it is very important to ensure that your CV is accurate. For example, when I was vetting a candidate for a board, on her resume she listed herself as President of a large telecom company. After further examination, I realized that her title had no meaning as she was only President of a small business unit of 20 people. She became an automatic knock-out for not being truthful about her actual responsibilities. This mistake could have been avoided if she were up-front about her responsibilities on her resume and listed that she was president of only a small unit, not the entire firm.
Patricia Lenkov, Founder and President of Agility Executive Search LLC warned that during the vetting process, she looks at everything – including the chronological resume to understand any gaps and what was done each year. She conducts a detailed due diligence, talking to people you have worked with, teams you have been on and what people think about you. If you want to get a seat on a board you must act ethically and respectfully every step of the way.
2. Personal Brand Management
As an executive, an integral part of landing your next board seat is all about positioning and managing your personal brand. Lee Stiegemeier, cofounder and Chief Verbal Artist, Circle Sideways, shared that in today’s hyper-connected world, it precedes you everywhere you go as seen through three distinct views:
3. Build A Plan
Janet Cowell, treasurer, North Carolina and director, ChannelAdvisor Corp., recommended to build a serious business plan that expressed your end objectives of getting onto a board. Achieving this goal is like any other business enterprise goal. It’s not random. You need to determine which board you can add value to, which culture would you fit into and then figure out who can potentially serve to make an introduction. We all only have so many units of brain power, time and energy. So prioritize your plan around industries and the work you have a passion for.
4. Create Authentic Relationships
There is an exponential universe of board candidates, but the supply of board seats has not creatively kept up. 75% of board searches are influenced by the people you know in the community. Karen Fenaroli, CEO of Fenaroli & Associates Search, a boardroom search specialist, says that not only do you need to focus on your day job which builds your experienced reputation, but stay “connected to connectors ” – your strong business friends – your favorite M&A deal attorney, the hyper-networked headhunter and other CEOs in the know who live across the U.S. Continue to be available instead of burying yourself in golf clubs, gardening projects, or a one-year trip around the world. Genuine and unilateral networking is work in and of itself.
When you walk into a room in your community, people should know who you are. Are you attending conferences or speaking on topics an expert? Are you writing articles and sharing your knowledge with others? Exercising your lungs and brains on issues that are important to you? Are you inviting people to dinner, building diverse connections? Have you put yourself out there with smart diverse people? Strengthening these relationships with no pre-determined outcome and no timeline is important.
5. Study Your Tone
Your ability to be able to push back and ask strategic questions in a tone that is collegial and non-confrontational is critical. Boards will no doubt go through a crisis at one point and having members who are articulate, thoughtful and build consensus when the titanic hits the iceberg is of tremendous value. Soft skills are critical and should not be undervalued in this process. Experts are important for understanding the industry, however, having too many experts on the board can often backfire, making boards overly confident and too set in their ways – avoiding constructive disagreement that leads to better decision-making. Every board has a culture. Make sure that your tone will fit with that culture.
6. Prepare Intensely For Every Interview
The interview process is a marathon not a sprint and you need to have your game face on every step of the way. Make sure you actively listen during the entire interview process and read everything you can about the company, including the 10K in advance of the interview. This will ensure that you are always well-versed and prepared. Every phone call and meeting is an interview whether it is expressed that way or not. I once interviewed a woman for a board and I asked her whether she had read the 10K. She said that she just wanted to see if this was a serious interview and then would do her homework. She was knocked out of the box immediately.
During the interview process, to show you are serious about the position make sure to always ask questions. Sandra Price, Director, Great Plains Energy Inc. and former Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Sprint, talks about many of the questions she asked in the interviewing process such as, what have been the driving forces in the success of the business, what are the top two to three headwinds that might cause the board or management team to look at the business in a different way? Once you formulate certain hypotheses about the company, it’s important to stress test them with candid conversations. It’s important to find the right match and to ensure that the value is right both ways. It’s not about just finding a board seat. It’s about knowing what competencies differentiate you and what you will bring to that board. Here are some smart questions that board candidates have asked:
EQ is part of the interviewing process as well. The interview process is both art and science. A lot of intuitive thinking must goes on.
By crafting your reputation, managing your brand, building a plan, creating authentic relationships, studying your tone and preparing for all your interviews you will be well prepared to get that coveted board seat.
Want to learn more? Use NACD, the national association of corporate directors as an additional resource for board insights and learning.