Serving on a board can be an incredibly rewarding experience. The opportunity will allow you to learn from other very smart and seasoned professionals whom you will work alongside as well as share your knowledge and experience in board governance activities and oversight. And whether you are working on a board within an industry you have deep experience or very little experience, you’ll acquire intimate knowledge about that company’s culture, it’s structure, decision-making processes, and generally how it conducts business.
A big bonus; all of this translates well to enhancing and advancing your professional career. At Women in the Boardroom, we provide and share information on many topics about how to land a corporate board seat, but we thought it important to also talk about just what you should do once you get there!
Prepare Extensively Before Each Meeting
Once you’re elected to a board, you’ll be sent a very detailed packet of information. Obviously, it’s important to familiarize yourself with this information and ask any necessary questions you might have. But don’t stop there. Familiarize yourself with everything about the company’s history,
management, competitors, and industry trends, and then expand your research to become current on boardroom best practices and changing regulations.
You will gain great insight by reviewing the company’s website, reading analyst reports and press releases, and visiting physical plants, stores, distribution centers, or offices. Veteran directors say they like to be the best-informed person in the room because they gain confidence in themselves and respect from other directors.
Review Committee Bylaws Regularly
One of the most important things you can do as a board member is to make sure you’re familiar with the committee bylaws. These bylaws establish the company’s management structure and procedures.
Essentially, it’s your operation manual and it’s developed by you and your fellow boards of directors. This “manual” allows you to maintain consistency when providing proper governance and oversight to the company, and it also guides you in communicating organizational rules to resolve any internal disputed or conflict.
Keep in mind, these bylaws are, or at least should be, refreshed often, so you want to make sure you continuously refer to them throughout your tenure as a board member.
Get to Know Your Fellow Board Members.
Like any company, Boards have their own culture and like any culture you need to find your way to fit in and have impact. Be your authentic self when interacting with others; you were chosen for your unique background and personality, show it. Most board meetings begin with a dinner or similar social time.
Get to know your fellow directors; ask about their families, their interests, and their companies, and also find out what is on their mind about the company right now. Your sincere interest in knowing your fellow directors, as trusted colleagues, will help immensely when tense topics come up in the boardroom. It’s also a great opportunity to network.
Speak up, selectively.
Experienced board members say it is not easy to find the perfect balance between speaking too often and not enough. On the other hand, when directors share regrets about their board service, they often say they wish they would have spoken up sooner and more loudly when they felt something was wrong.
Some follow this rule of thumb: speak only when you have something valuable to add, and always when you are concerned about any topic. Also, be sure to remain open-minded about the opinions of your fellow board members. Collegiality is important, the board is a team, but at the same time you can dissent, and part of your job is to be the dissenting voice, you don’t necessarily want to be the one person who’s always being argumentative.
But if you’re not comfortable with something that’s going on, you need to push back.
Be a Director, Not the CEO.
Your job is to provide oversight and guidance to management’s decisions, not to carry out operations yourself. This shift in responsibility can be difficult to make for people who have been CEOs, CFOs and COOs. You must support and encourage your CEO and management team, but always challenge their thinking and hold them accountable for performance.
Develop the Art of Influencing Your Peers.
People who are used to being the boss can find life in the boardroom to be perplexing at first. You are in a room with smart, accomplished people as your peers. Although you have a lead director and a board chair, other forms of hierarchy don’t exist, and everyone’s operational titles are irrelevant. That fact can be an exhilarating part of the intellectual and communications challenge that makes board service so attractive to many.
Remember, to be an effective board member you should be informed, prepare extensively, and ask questions. The most important part of your role as a board member is to be well-versed in your company’s management structure and procedures so that you’re able to make the most effective decisions on behalf of that company.
If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, Reach out to me directly!
Sheila Ronning, Founder, Women in the Boardroom.