“Is this something I want to do?” “Is it time for me to start thinking about serving on boards at this point in my career?” “Am I already over committed and on too many boards?” “Would I agree to serve on this board just to make some money? Oh, it’s a volunteer position – I’ve done my share of those.” Maybe you can relate to this dilemma. I know I can.
I’m pretty sure a savvy director would have a baseline list of questions at the ready to determine if this opportunity was a good fit for their director skills, capacity and overall interest - or a better fit for someone else. They would have seen this movie before. They would recall getting involved with a board without doing their homework first, and then finding themselves eagerly waiting for their first term to expire.
On the other hand, if you’re a savvy director in-waiting - an up-and-coming director who realizes you don’t know what you don’t know – why not reach out for some advice to help inform your decision?
Take Anna, a twenty-something certified professional accountant (CPA) who is busy building her career. Anna knows she will likely want to buy a home someday and it would be a good idea to pay off her student loans to start saving for a down payment. With all that’s been going on, it was a nice surprise to be asked by her boss to consider representing the company on the board of an industry association.
Anna’s boss has served on this board himself and is hoping to be freed up from attending another monthly meeting. He told Anna that all that is required is to read the material ahead of time, show up, ask a few questions, and vote on a few motions. In addition, since meetings take place over the lunch hour, she could get her board work done on company time.
But Anna couldn’t help wondering if that was really all there is to it? She felt she might be interested in serving but would like to talk to someone first. She had a sense that it might not be a great career move to say no to her boss, but she knew she had every right to learn more before accepting. So, her boss arranged for the association’s Executive Director to call her. Anna was now thinking about what her questions should be. And asking herself why a board member wouldn’t be talking to her instead of the Executive Director?
Anna knew she could contribute to the board because of her accounting skills. She was also fully aware of her lack of basic board director skills and she’d like to be known for more than just her ability with numbers. She was starting to realize how much she could learn from the wisdom around the board table, helping her to become a better director and building her toolbox.
While talking it over at home with her roommate, they both realized they knew a few people who serve on boards. For instance, Anna remembered that her VP of Finance serves on a couple of boards. She didn’t know him well, but well enough to ask him a few questions about board work. She decided that the next day she would think more about her questions, write them down, and request a meeting with him.
With that plan in mind, some of Anna’s anxiety lifted. Anxiety she didn’t even realize she was experiencing. Having a firm plan in place and talking to a trusted expert can do that!
Long story short … Anna met with her VP. He was more than accommodating and happy to help. She returned to her office with a newfound sense of confidence that, when meeting with the association’s Executive Director, she could ask insightful questions that would give her a better idea what she would be signing up for.
Anna felt even more confident when she realized she could use a handy checklist to help with her preparation.
Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of DirectorPrep.com – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help prepare for your next board meeting.