The value you bring to the boardroom is what matters.
You’re in the boardroom for a reason. It's not enough to simply show up. Putting your skills and attributes to work will enable you to make a positive impact on your board.
Knowing how and where you can add value helps you be the most effective director you can be. It gives you the confidence to engage actively with your peers around the board table (or on the computer screen).
“The board is a special group of people. People who are professional, people who have multiple identities, people who are busy, and people who do not spend that much time together.” - Stanislav Shekshnia, INSEAD Senior Affiliate Professor on Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise.
The individual value you bring to the boardroom is found at the intersection of your knowledge, influence and leadership.
During my meeting PREP, I find it really helps to focus in a mindful way on how I might add value to the work of the board. Thinking about what it’s going to be like in the boardroom before I even get there helps me make an impactful contribution to the discussion when the time comes.
Let’s use our knowledge, influence and leadership capabilities. That’s our director ‘superpower’.
As directors we have a responsibility to the board as a whole, and to our fellow board members, to make sure we're prepared for anything that comes our way. A complete understanding of matters before the board will help directors make sound decisions whether they’re about how money is spent on important projects, which policies are most effective, or what technology investment would best serve the organization’s needs.
Researching the topics that are going to be discussed at the meeting provides you with the confidence to collaborate with others. Having that knowledge in your pocket gives you the courage to disagree if need be, and helps you build consensus to take action!
As board members, we should always be looking out for any skill gaps we want to work on. We also need to stay alert for areas of interest where we could share the knowledge we’ve gained from experience at other organizations.
“Skills are not learned by reading or talking, they’re about trying.” - Tim Rowley. INSEAD Co-Director ‘Leading from the Chair’ Programme.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to influence your board – that’s why you’re there. As a director, your influence can come from position, personality, or both. Regardless of the source of your influence, it’s best to exercise it carefully.
A good way of influencing the discussion without raising anyone’s hackles is by asking insightful questions. Listening carefully to the responses and re-framing conversations allows the board to move forward toward a decision that will work best for everyone involved.
When offering informed opinions, doing so with subtlety and tactfulness ensures that your input will stand out for quality and succinctness without taking away from others whose voices need to be heard as well.
A board director’s work is challenging, but with the right skills – both hard skills and soft skills – it gets easier. We all need to find that balance between being subservient or dominant. That’s how you can ensure that not only is your voice heard, but your views are given serious consideration. If you’d like to read more about maintaining this balance, you can refer to our previous blog The Board Director’s Balancing Act.
In their seminal book, 'Boards That Lead', author Ram Charan and his colleagues describe various scenarios when boards need to take charge, partner with management, monitor performance or simply stay out of the way.
For individual directors, we should think about the hard skills where we can demonstrate leadership in board discussions - systems thinking, the big picture view, risk management, and general business acumen.
Not every board member has to be an industry expert but, as leaders who want to encourage innovation and new ideas, everyone of us has a role to play in cultivating a culture of inquiry in the boardroom. Let’s try to have the courage to ask tough questions, no matter how uncomfortable. It's in those moments that true breakthroughs occur.
In an earlier Savvy Director blog, we asked, “What’s in Your Offer?”. It was all about your personal value proposition - the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that helps you be an attractive candidate for board recruitment.
Today’s article is more about the value you deliver once you’re in the room. That means you, walking the talk, every meeting.
You might think of the value you bring to a board meeting like a traditional Venn diagram. The three concentric circles are the knowledge, influence and leadership you bring into the room with you after you’ve done your meeting PREP.
The areas you emphasize in your board PREP will change from one meeting to the next depending on the agenda and the board’s evolving priorities.
The value you add to every meeting is at the intersection of your combined knowledge of the issues, the influence skills you have honed over time, and your leadership capacity that lets you know when to lean in, when to step back - and the courage to know the difference.
So, you think that’s easier said than done? I would agree.
Our director’s challenge is to remember where we can best add our own unique value in the heat of the moment, when discussions become a little more intense.
We all have times when we’re off our game and forget what it takes to do well in the boardroom.
Have you ever returned home or gone back to the office after a board meeting asking yourself, "Why did I say that?" Chances are one or more of the intersecting circles had shrunk or grown or became somehow unbalanced.
That's a story for another day.
Leave a comment below to get in on the conversation.
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.
Share Your Insight: In your view, does our Venn diagram depicting a director’s value at the intersection of knowledge, influence and leadership ring true? How would you make it better?