What should come next for debutant board members
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What should come next for debutant board members

What should come next for debutant board members

The first board meeting is obviously when the learning curve is steepest


There has been a surge of senior executives hoping for a board role amidst the pandemic-interrupted career progress. If you are seeking to enter a board as an independent director, there are enough advices you can get from a Google search.

And, one of the advices you get is to reach out to those companies or boards in your wish list.

Networking, reaching out to board opportunities, seeking mentors, and building a board vitae are among the outreach steps you will need. In addition, there are some valuable in-reach steps a rising corporate manager should consider: Tap the internal contacts, knowledge and inside activities that will provide a vital boost to credibility as a board candidate.

We recently counseled the head of HR at a medium-sized enterprise on gaining a board seat. She mentioned that her company’s board compensation committee recently updated and rewrote their charter and bylaws, and that as HR chief, she advised and supported their work. That was a good experience for any board resume and she eventually made it into the board.

Many large corporates have a surprising number of internal board and advisory opportunities. Smart board wannabes seek these out and volunteer. Possibilities include company joint ventures and subsidiaries needing representation; company committees and task forces; ventures in which the company has investments; professional or “cause” organisations that the company supports; employee affinity groups (diversity, etc.). Wherever the company has people gathered around a table to make decisions, try to be there too, gaining board seat time.

Once you have gleaned all these tips and secured a board seat, remember it is not going to guarantee that you will stay there forever unless you continue to contribute in meaningful ways. In the past, we have written on how to prepare for your first board meeting (and there are plenty of other articles out there on the topic). But there are not much written on what after your first board meeting.

What should the board newbie do to circle back, find out how she handled herself, and gain the insights for the road ahead? Most new directors have someone on the board who has been their formal or informal mentor, perhaps the member who first dropped his or her name, or one he/she share outside connections with. After the first board meeting, talk with your mentor to get feedback and a sense of your responses in the discussions. Ask this director to give you a review right after the board meeting, when impressions are still fresh. It is even better to ask this mentor to keep eyes open in advance of the board meeting. What are first thoughts on your performance? What nuances in the boardroom did the mentor’s more experienced eyes catch what you may have missed?

Ask the same questions to the board chair. While you’re seeking criticism of yourself, it’s just as important to get the chairperson’s take on how the overall meeting went, subtext, continuing issues, and unresolved problems. This insight will help you view board meetings through the chair’s eyes, valuable intelligence from the head of the board table.

Finally, seek a few minutes with the chief executive. Rather than soliciting a “How’d I do?” review, query the CEO on his or her take on the meeting. Was it typical? What new items arose? Did the chief gain the actions and approvals sought, and, if not, why? Then, at the end, seek some feedback for your performance, or hints for future development. As a bonus, you’ll find it very informative to hear the board chair versus the CEO’s take on how the meeting went.

While we caution directors about taking notes in board meetings (this leaves all sorts of disclosure landmines pater), most of us still jot them anyway. Make quick observations and impressions as the meeting unrolls, preferably on one sheet, such as the agenda. Review these marginal comments as after-action reports, again doing so right after the meeting. What struck you as well managed, odd, awkward, or incomplete? Mark items that you need more follow-up or research on before the next meeting. Once done, destroy your notes.

Your first board meeting is obviously when the learning curve is steepest, but continue some of these habits for the first six months or so. Find out when and how the board evaluates itself, and, if assigned to the nominating and governance committee, volunteer to take an active part. The best way to find out what this board grades itself on is to help in marking the report cards.

Going forward, as part of your board time, seek chances to do lunch, a cup of coffee, or just a quick phone call with the other board members. Build these relationships with informal discussion. You’re seeking the other members’ perspectives on the business and governance issues facing the company, but you’re also networking and learning what makes them tick.

And, as a career plus, this puts you on top of mind when these leaders seek prospective candidates for the other boards they serve.

Ralph Ward is a global board advisor, coach and publisher, while Dr Muneer is co-founder of the non-profit Medici Institute and a stakeholder in the Silicon Valley-based deep-tech enterprise Rezonent Corp

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