Step-by-Step: Prepare for a seat on a board of directors

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Step 1:

Gain relevant experience. A board seat with a large public company is unlikely to be your first experience. Start looking for opportunities where you can get board experience quickly. Boards of local nonprofits, an industry organization, a university and smaller companies are good places to start. You need to show that you understand corporate governance and you need others who can vouch for your contributions as a board member.

Step 2:

Raise awareness for yourself and/or your brand, but with caution. If there are great examples of how your company is executing on a new concept, then raise the profile appropriately. But be careful as there’s a fine line between tooting your own horn and talking about the interesting things your organization is doing.

Step 3:

Build a network of advocates. Think about any directors you know and then, as appropriate, ask how they positioned themselves to get a board seat, what they have learned, how much time they spend, etc. Not only will you get smarter, but you’ll also make your intentions known. This is important because usually when a board is looking to fill an open slot, the directors will create a short list, typically focusing on experienced directors. When these executives are unable to accept a new board role, they often suggest other potential candidates. Getting that referral is half the battle.

Step 4:

Make sure you have support from your boss. Check first to be certain you aren’t contractually precluded from serving on an outside board. Then, have an open discussion with our boss about your goals. A savvy CEO will understand that serving on a board is a two-way street. If it is a good fit for you and the organization, you’ll be able to apply lessons learned that can add value to your own team. Your boss may turn out to be one of your biggest advocates, which can be a huge advantage when boards are evaluating candidates. Remember, these are the very people who are often called to ask for referrals for great board candidates.

Step 5:

Be careful what you wish for. Sitting on a board can be incredibly time consuming. No matter how much research you do beforehand, the unexpected does happen. Next thing you know it’s all hands on deck for a CEO search, a bankruptcy or some other crisis. You have to be prepared for the time commitment required.


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