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It is incredibly valuable as a senior professional to get experience as a board member. There are three reasons that this really can make a difference to your career.
- As a board member you will start to understand more about processes of governance and strategy which you may not be exposed to in your current role.
- As a board member, you’ll start to understand how boards work, the role of a chairman and how to structure formal meetings in a governance capacity. You’ll start to understand how to contribute effectively and how that kind of regular team meeting can support the operation of an organisation.
- As a board member, you will start to build relationships with other organisations through the people you meet at the board. You’ll start to understand how you can influence direction rather than only lead through positional authority and direction.
There are lots of good reasons to be a board member, but how do you get experience as a board member?
Getting on a List is Not Enough
You may well be one of these people who gets emails or LinkedIn messages from organisations that are promising you that they can get you non-executive directorships and you might think that the idea of being paid £10,000 or £15,000 a year to turn up four times a year and sit in a room with other board members is easy money, but it’s not as easy as it seems.
For most people you can only become a board member when you already are a board member. So, I suggest that you develop a strategy to prepare yourself to become an effective board member of a for-profit organisation. As a first step, see how you could become a board member or trustee of a third sector or other not-for-profit organisation. There are a huge range of opportunities. One of the most accessible is to become a school governor. If you are a parent at a school, then you could seek to become a parent governor of the school. Governors get very good training on how to be a useful contributor to a board of Governors.
The other place where you may well have an opportunity to be a board member is a trustee of a charity. But be careful about the size of charity you approach. If the charity is too small, you’ll end up really just being an advisor to the CEO and a volunteer. You want a charity that’s large enough and mature enough that you can really contribute as a board member. Yes, you’ll bring your particular professional expertise to that board, but it will be that experience you bring rather than primarily coming to assist the CEO as a volunteer.
The third place, where you may well have an opportunity to be a board member, is with an organisation that you are a part of. Whether it’s your local Chamber of Commerce, golf club, residents’ association or professional organisation you can find opportunities to engage with board and committee work.
The final thing is, to explore through your current employer, how you can find an opportunity to sit as a non-executive board member of another of the group companies to get some experience sideways. If you are working in a larger group of companies, could you go and be a non-executive board member for another group company, get some experience and extend your insight?
So, those are different opportunities, how do you go about it? Well, I think it’s well worth using your existing network to find opportunities, looking for opportunities in your local paper, looking at job boards, but also considering engaging with an organisation like Women on Boards where they are seeking to support people to train to be effective non-executives, often within the charity sector.
There are three steps:
- Understand the benefits for you and your career.
- Identify the right entry point for you to get your first board memberships.
- Think about what training and development you could undertake which would enable you to be a more effective board member.
Experience of board membership will influence your leadership and management style in a powerful way. It can also position you for future opportunities as an executive board member and board advisor.
Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.