What Board Should I Apply For?

This question is one that I am asked most often by aspiring, and even experienced board directors.

Understanding what boards look for in potential board members should go some way to you answering this question for yourself.

However, having said that and on reflection, I think that this is often the wrong question to ask. Instead, I recommend you ask yourself the question ‘If I were a Chair of a company, what sort of board would I realistically appoint myself to?’
Be critical.

I counseled a client recently who had run a significant sized family owned food manufacturing business. He was convinced that he could have an effective role to play on a board of one of the major supermarkets. He may have been able to contribute but he was never going to have the opportunity to do so because he was never going to be appointed to the board. Why? Primarily, because he did not have the self-awareness to recognize that he was not appropriately qualified, connected or have enough experience.

The major issue here was not so much his unrealistic aspirations but rather his desire to be a board member, passionate about serving. This approach unfortunately had three further significant and negative impacts including:

He became disgruntled with his board search very quickly. Other people were deemed the stumbling blocks for his lack of board opportunities.

His reputation suffered. Others recognized that his arrogance in believing that he could, and should, sit on any board made him an unsuitable candidate.

His unrealistic aspirations translated to a personal reputational risk for those he met. As such, no new introductions were forthcoming despite, no doubt, that those he met could have helped him on his journey.

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with having big aspirations for your board career. However, based on your experience to date and having realistic aspirations as to what kind of board you can be appointed to will make a significant difference to the success of your journey.

On the assumption that you are willing to manage your expectations and aspirations then asking yourself the kind of questions below might help narrow down the sort of board that you should aspire, at least initially, to apply for.

Questions to ask yourself include:

Do you need to get paid?

Only considering paid board roles can be a stumbling block for many. Instead, consider whether being part of an influential board or company is enough.

Do you have past board experience?

If not, put yourself in the seat of a Chair – what kind of board would you realistically appoint yourself to?

What is your skill set?

Think critically about how valuable is it at board level and try to consider a practical example of your contribution.

Where do you live?

If you live some distance from where the organisation operates think about what you would add as a board member above and beyond that which a more local candidate would.

What your contacts are like?

Are they industry based and as such deep and narrow or shallow but broad? In either case how do they relate to the needs of the board?

What is your timing?

How quickly ‘must’ you get your first board appointment? Are you willing to hold out for the perfect board or will something that you are passionate about but not perfect suffice initially?

What are your passions for being on a board?

Can you demonstrate a passion for board work and not just being a board member?

How much time do you have?

Board work can be demanding and often conflicts with your executive career. Can you afford at least one day out of the office a month?

How much preparation are you willing to do to be appointed?

Applying for and being appointed to a board can be even more labour intensive than applying for a board role. Are you prepared for the journey?

By managing your expectations and taking a critical look at what you have to offer a board should go some way to answer the question which sort of board you should aspire to be appointed to.