20 Jul 2022
How to get on your first board, step by step
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There are seven steps to taking your seat in the boardroom, as our ‘First Board’ guide explains.
Here’s a flavour of what we think will get you in the running for that board seat you’ve set your sights on.
Step 1: Know your motivations
As a prospective director, you need to be aware that, although board membership is generally highly-paid relative to the time commitment, there will be times when your director role will be all-consuming.
And don’t forget to remember that directors are being held to accountability standards by the companies they serve, the shareholders of that company, and various oversight organisations. So, be sure you are sure of your motivation to take it all on.
Step 2: Identify your proposition
Properly identifying the skills, perspectives, and experiences you can bring to the boardroom is a make or break task. It’s important to go about this systematically. Your eventual goal is to build your proposition in the same way that, for example, a fashion brand shapes its image in the minds of the consumer.
But this process is neither as simple nor as comfortable as it first sounds. It involves a good deal of honest self-analysis.
The process of self-analysis is not completely comfortable. But it is important to be truthful with yourself.
The best business leaders are self- aware. They know their strengths and their weaknesses, and they are not afraid to consult with or delegate to others. These qualities are especially valuable in the boardroom, where the framework of power and change is consensual.
If there’s something you need to improve to make yourself a better candidate, it’s better to work on it than to ignore it.
You need to be aware of any aspects of your skillset, employment history, or mindset that might serve as red flags to prospective employers.
It is important to be clear-eyed in your identification of these red flags because, as you go through the board search process, you should be working to circumvent or explain them.
Step 3: Know where you’re needed
Once you know what you can offer, it’s a good idea to identify what kind of companies can benefit from your service. Personal branding requires more than just self-awareness. You also need to identify your audience before you can customize your message to them. In thinking about the kinds of institutions that will most benefit from your presence, you shouldn’t ignore those outside of your own industry, nor companies away from home too.
Step 4: Write your board CV
Your board CV is a highly-specialised version of your executive CV. Keep in mind the unique demands placed on directors and your target audience.
If you are an executive, your current CV probably focuses on accomplishments and contains lines like “Engineered the turnaround of a Sisyphus Capital portfolio company from a loss of $140M to profitable with EBITDA $280M in a two-year period.” That’s great, but your board CV should add emphasis on how you effected that change. What ideas drove the change? How did you ‘socialize’ those ideas?
The goal of the board CV is to convince recruiters and others that your executive experience will translate into their boardroom.
Step 5: Control your image
Once you’ve identified your brand and consolidated it in your CV, it’s important to build brand consistency.
What happens when you type your name into Google? A prospective director should appear not just on LinkedIn and Twitter, but also in conference videos, publications, and podcasts.
Your LinkedIn account needs to reflect the changes you’ve made to your CV and display directorial mindsets. Your Twitter should demonstrate a socially conscious, forward-thinking professionalism. You should demonstrate active and considered thought leadership on all these forums.
If negative things appear in relation to your name, you should work to either make them disappear or develop an explanation.
Step 6: Publicise
To get on your first board, you have to be noticed. But that should be for reasons that will reinforce, rather than distract, from your board member brand.
After looking at current members of public or private company boards, people (executive recruiters, for example) looking for potential company director candidates often study conference speaker lists, professional associations, and author pages.
That’s where you should advertise yourself. Write papers. Speak at conferences. Try to publish articles in major outlets, trade journals, and “best-in-class” periodicals (even Odgers Berndtson’s Observe magazine). Also, seek out speaking engagements, panels, and conferences, ideally at industry-leading events. Younger candidates may need to build up to these, but some exposure is better than none and will lead to more.
Step 7: Network, network, network
The final step is all about, you guessed it, networking.
Like anything in life, who you know and who knows you is half the battle.
Relationships of trust are a huge part of hiring at all levels. Our ‘First Board’ guide has 12 keys to networking for a director position. Download it now to find out what they are.
The Odgers Berndtson executive search guide to your first board seat has advice on what makes a good director and how to best position yourself to step up successfully.
The guide draws on our experience of leading scores of successful executive searches for board members for some of the world’s best-known companies and brands. We’ve also factored in our clients’ changing expectations and needs when appointing board members, and we’ve reflected on the trends we’ve seen emerging across the global Odgers Berndtson executive search network.
Your first board position
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