I am a great believer in planning and preparation. In fact, I totally agree with that saying that the harder you work the luckier you seem to become.
Acquiring a board position is a little bit like that. In many, many cases there is a structured recruitment process where you have to demonstrate your skills and credentials, but just as often it is more informal, someone thinks you are just what they need for their board and offer you a position (especially for unpaid roles). Equally it can be a bit of both, someone recommends you apply and then it is up to you to secure the role.
What you never know is when that moment might arrive, which means you might not have much time to consider whether the reality of being on a board is actually for you.
This happened to Professor Laura McAllister when the opportunity to become the Chair of Sports Wales arose. It came out of the blue and she had to make a quick decision as to whether to go ahead. No doubt some people felt she was lucky, but if you meet her you will know it was the case that all her hard work was paying off.
What struck me when I heard her speak last year was how she explained some of the key success factors she felt she had employed. Not all of them are what you would expect, and if you get an offer out of the blue, you might want to consider whether you have the time and commitment that a board role really takes.
Check out some of the skills and commitments you will need below, as knowing them might help you when your moment arises!
Can you really commit to the cause?
This might seem obvious, because why would you be involved in something you are not committed to, but Laura assured us that she has met many people who do just that. It is very easy to be flattered and to get carried away accepting positions as they get offered to you, but you will do your reputation no good at all, and you will not enjoy it. Also, as women, many of us have a “want to please” gene, which hooks us into agreeing to all sorts of things. Don’t let a board role be one of them.
Do you have the time to always be prepared?
It was interesting to find out that some people naively assume that the only commitment to a board is the time that the board actually “sits”. That, of course, is not the case, and there is always reading to be done beforehand and thinking time that needs to take place. It is quite a skill to keep up to date with something and have valuable, informed opinions when you might only meet once a month or once a quarter. You need to be factor in the time to do your prep and make the most of that opportunity.
- Are you financially literate?
It is vitally important that you know how to interpret the financials of an organisation. A key part of a board role is governance, and if you do not know what the accounts are really saying you definitely cannot ask incisive questions. This means that you jeopardise your chance of carrying out any sort of governance at all.
- Are you really politically savvy?
Fine tuning your stakeholder mapping skills, knowing who makes the decisions and holds the influence, and understanding the spoken and unspoken rules are all key skills to hone. Building your own network and investing in that network will pay dividends later on.
- How nimble are you?
Laura pointed out that things change all the time and you need to be able to analyse changing situations and make decisions, sometimes very quickly. To do that you have to be nimble of mind and expect the unexpected. One key tip Laura gave us was to make sure you keep your brain in shape; you cannot think clearly when tired or stressed, so looking after yourself is a key priority.
Want more help deciding if 2016 is your year for a board position? It’s worth watching our webinar on Women on Boards here.
Stephanie Morgan FLPI, Director of Learning Solutions, Bray Leino Learning
Sharing ideas and observations to help improve performance.
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