To Board or not to Board - That is the Question

I am a great proponent of joining a Board and bringing a unique set of eyes and experience to the table. When in conversation with people who are not feeling 100% confident about joining a Board, I ask them to talk about the underlying uncertainty.

For people on leadership paths, uncertainty around joining a Board is rarely about feeling ill-prepared as the vast majority have already completed governance training. The issues go deeper:

What are the pros and cons of joining a Board?

We have all had colleagues share their Board stories, and it’s fair to say some of the stories serve as cautionary tales. 

The top three concerns people share with me about joining a Board are the risk of:

Poor governance impacting on capacity for decision making by Directors
Competing agendas around the Board table
Lack of vision and clarity about strategic direction

The top three drivers for joining Boards shared in my circles are:

Professional extension and stretch and purpose
Development of new capabilities and skills 
New or extended career platform

All roads lead to the Chair

Once you are clear on some of the possible pitfalls and benefits of being on the Board you are considering joining, make a time to meet with the Chair. Prior to the meeting, take time to frame the questions you have for the Chair to address your concerns:

Can you talk me through the: vision and strategic direction; governance framework; board/executive engagement; decision-making framework; board culture; top 3 strengths of this board and top 3 areas for development of this board?

This forms part of your due diligence. Use this opportunity to take deeper dives so you can fully understand the landscape of this organisations and its governance. Don't be concerned about taking up too much of the Chair's time. Time spent in this discovery stage pays dividends. If you decide to go ahead with your application, this exploratory time will leave you better prepared for Board interview. In the event that your meeting with the Chair confirms some of your concerns, the time spent in the pre-application process was beneficial in your decision-making and risk assessment process.

Do I add value?

If your concern about joining a Board is how much value you can add, it can be helpful to unpack this uncertainty.

Is this your first foray into a Board beyond the parameters of your workplace?
Do you sit on Boards and Committees in your sector, bringing a high level of expertise and confidence to the table?  

My suggestion again, is to arrange to meet with the Chair. 

Ask about the experience and skill-sets already present around the table.
Find out more about what skill-sets and experience they are seeking and where they see their gaps.

Having the conversation can often allay concerns about the value you bring to the table. Heikki Vaananen, CEO and founder of HappyOrNot expands further on the benefits of sitting on Boards in his article in Forbes

Map the value add

Once you are clear on the skills, experience and values the Board is seeking, it is worth mapping these across your own profile to locate the synergies.  Of course a perfect match does not mean a match made in heaven, but it can allay concerns about how much value you can add to the Board. This process also assists you in your capacity to articulate the benefits yours lens will add to the Board.

Take action

For those who are holding back from taking on Board positions, my suggestion is to do your due diligence, meet with the Chair, gather formal and informal intel. Once you can tick the boxes that matter to you - step up and take your seat at the Board table.

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