Boost your career and join a board
Serving on a board of directors can be a career boost.
Whether it’s for a non-profit organisation or a corporate entity, being a director is an opportunity for professional growth and growing a personal brand. If you’re an executive thinking of amplifying your value by moving into positions on boards, there’s a lot you need to know.
The AltoPartners global partnership of executive search experts has a range of board-savvy people – and they are generous with their knowledge. In a series about company boards we’ve covered:
How remuneration works on boards: For love or money: directorships and board fees
How boards can best choose diversity candidates: Diversity on company boards – from tokenism to genuine change
How candidates should go about joining a board: Read this before you accept that board post
Our experts also know first-hand the career boost associated with being on a board. Claudia Hardy, Partner at Ezentia Leadership Group / AltoPartners Mexico says the advantages of being on a board are significant and break down to three main things: influence, exposure and experience.
“Serving on a board implies being in a position to advise the company’s leadership and impact the company’s strategic direction,” Hardy says.
Karen B. Greenbaum, President and CEO of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC), agrees, saying that serving on a board is an opportunity to enhance someone’s career while adding value to another organisation.
“Serving on a board requires a different set of leadership skills. You are not managing, but rather providing strategic guidance,” she says. She advises people to abandon a one-sided view when joining a board. “Think about benefiting you and benefiting the organisation,” she says.
In addition to the career rewards, being in a position of influence can be deeply satisfying personally. Lauren Smith, managing director of Diversified Search Group / AltoPartners USA and NACD Board Leadership Fellow, says it is highly rewarding to leverage your own functional, industry and leadership experience to help a new organisation to succeed.
Hardy says that serving on a board gives an executive great exposure to board peers, the company’s executive leadership, and extends their network beyond their given area of expertise.
In an article for Ellevate, a professional networking site for women, personal branding expert Alyssa Gelbard adds that a board member might also be in a position to meet an organisation’s strategic partners, its clients and investors, as well as colleagues and leaders across industries and government.
“As you meet new people, be sure to connect in meaningful ways; relationships are not built on a single conversation,” she says. “Cultivate them by setting up calls/meetings, sharing resources, making plans to meet at another event, and of course, connecting on LinkedIn. These relationships can be quite valuable when you are ready to pursue the next step in your career.”
Smith says that serving on a board is an opportunity to grow new leadership skills. “Learning how to make collaborative decisions, give input to management without giving them direction and bringing strategic insights to help face the future are some of the key skills you learn as a director,” she says.
Hardy says that being on a board prepares the director for further board work in other companies, either by leading a board or being part of different committees.
Tips for getting the most out of serving on a board
Set your boundaries: Board work is an important, relevant, and time-consuming venture. Time management is key to avoid being stretched too thin in fulfilling board responsibilities.
Be prepared: Do the homework. Review all board materials thoroughly before each meeting. Come prepared with key questions and observations.
Learn to listen: New board members need to respect the fact that they are newcomers. They shouldn’t feel the need to jump in immediately in order to make themselves visible visible. Listen and watch the board dynamics and the board culture. Question thoughtfully.
See the bigger picture: First-time board members can find it tricky to change hats and focus on the bigger picture without access to all the details that they address in their day jobs. “Make sure that you are not asking questions in the board room that take the conversation to an inappropriate level of detail. Directors need to ask strategic questions that add value to conversation and bring a fresh perspective,” says Smith.