How to get appointed to a board when you're not a household name: let us consider what boards are looking for, the different paths that would position you as a highly qualified potential candidate for a board seat, and some other timeless lessons on getting to the boardroom.

Author:Montford, John T.
Position:BOARD LEADERSHIP - Cover story

'How can I get appointed to a board?" It is a question we are asked frequently by up-and-coming, high-performing professional men and women and just as often by established, long-tenured leaders and chief executives who view an appointment to a corporate board of directors as the pinnacle, defining achievement of their careers. Getting the call to the boardroom is a testament to a successful career. It is a special recognition of hard work, experience, and expertise, and one typically reserved for individuals who have conducted themselves as consummate professionals while building their credentials--and, just as important, their peer relationships and professional networks.

While many highly accomplished men and women hope and expect to get that call to the boardroom some day, the truth is that few are asked to serve organizations in such a critical governance role. Unless you have the wide name recognition of a former secretary of state, cabinet secretary, or U.S. senator, or you have celebrity status as a high-profile chief executive officer, you're not going to be openly solicited for board service.

For most people without household name appeal, the pathway is clear--we have to earn it. There simply is no big "easy" button to push for appointment to the boardroom. It is for this reason we committed to put together this roadmap for getting to the board appointment you want and which you may also deserve.

Starting qualifiers

So what separates those who actually get appointed from all those who would simply like to get appointed? These factors are particularly important qualifiers for securing a board appointment:

  1. Your reputation, experience, and credentials for a board appointment.

  2. The expert knowledge and insight you bring and how it will extend and deepen board competency in the right areas, at the right time.

  3. The networking relationships and advocates you can engage to rise above other successful leaders.

  4. The clarity, consistency, and conviction of your own efforts to engage with influential people.

So how do you get on a board?

The answer is, a lifetime of hard work creates what, more now than ever before, represents only an opportunity to do more hard work in today's corporate boardroom under an intensifying glare of public opinion, shareholder advocates, activists, lawyers, labor unions, the media, and more. But to get there, you have to have a plan and stick with it. Of course, luck also factors into the board appointment equation. Be at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. You can control two of those variables. As for timing, well, let us just say we hope luck is on your side.

It is hard to serve a need until you understand that need. In order to get to the boardroom, you must understand what boards want, what they need, and what is motivating their directors to seek new competencies that will improve governance and, in some cases, cover their rear ends if something goes wrong. As has been the case for decades, today's boards of directors do not want to be taken by surprise or be caught unaware.

To get yourself appointed to the boardroom these days, you have to bring both the "who" and the "what" factors directors believe they need to add to their boards.

The 'who' boards need

Today's boards are looking for globally experienced business executives. They are looking for big thinkers who can implement ideas. They want successful women and other accomplished professionals who would add racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity to their boards, in part to reflect greater connectivity to globalizing consumer groups. Progressive boards now seek successful individuals from all fields-- from business to law and politics and from academia, science, and public service. They want innovators and boundary spanners. They want people who are wise enough to think for themselves and bold enough to stand up for what they believe.

Just as every diamond is a lump of coal that "did well under pressure," a good board director brings well-developed soft skills, hard skills, people skills, and exemplary behaviors and actions born in the crucible of organizational challenge and healthy conflict. Among the attributes boards seek and find highly desirable, executive coach Kevin Arvin adds, is leadership courage--characterized by a balance between high candor and high respect...

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