Thinking about taking your career in the direction of board leadership one day? Maryann Bruce has some insights to share, based on her successful transition from senior operating executive of two Fortune 100 firms to independent director of several public and private companies.
Understand what board service entails, so that you can determine whether a director position would be a good fit for you. “Ask colleagues who are serving on boards how they got started in board service, and what they like and dislike about it. Learn about the roles, responsibilities, duties and time commitment required of directors,” Bruce says.
Excel at what you do. Bruce advises, “Be prepared to show a track record of moving into roles of increasing responsibility throughout your career. Ideally, you should be a successful business leader with operating and P&L experience. As you’re building this history, keep in mind that boards today are particularly interested in adding individuals with expertise in IT – especially cybersecurity, finance and international experience.”
Make senior management of your organization aware that you’re interested in being on a board. Bruce suggests that you request exposure to the company’s current board, which may lead to your making a presentation to members or perhaps attending a board dinner.
Get published. “Writing articles or blogs about your area of expertise goes a long way toward establishing your personal brand,” Bruce says. “Let people know what you know.”
Network at every opportunity. Connect with search firms, research companies, accounting and law firms with board practices, and other service providers that cater to boards, and make them aware of your desire to serve.
Bruce adds, “Joining a nonprofit or industry association board is a good first step to acquiring the experience and enhancing the skill sets required for board leadership. Choose causes that you’re passionate about, and keep in mind that nonprofit boards tend to be less structured than corporate, private and private equity boards.”
What should you bring to the table?
Your expertise tops the list of desirable qualities for board service. But boards look for much more, Bruce says. She recommends cultivating the following:
Integrity and accountability. “Demonstrate high ethical standards and integrity in your professional and personal life,” she says.
Strong communication skills. “One of the most appreciated qualities in board directors is the ability to communicate your points of view in a compelling and persuasive manner, and to disagree without being disagreeable,” says Bruce. “Clear communication and respectful dialogue are essential.”
Financial literacy. “A key role of boards is monitoring financial performance,” Bruce says. “Know how to read a balance sheet, an income statement and a cash flow statement, and understand the use of financial ratios and other indices for evaluating company performance.”
Mature confidence. “Board service is the ultimate team sport, placing high value on the diverse skills, qualities and knowledge base of the entire board,” Bruce explains. Directors must work cohesively together, and be open to other opinions and willing to actively listen to cultivate consensus.
Courage. “Be willing to be different, step forward, speak out and voice your opinion, even if your advice runs counter to conventional wisdom,” advises Bruce.
Maryann Bruce is an independent director of public and private companies, a respected C-suite advisor and keynote speaker, and a former senior operating executive of two Fortune 100 firms, Allstate Financial Distributors and Wachovia subsidiary Evergreen Investments Services Inc., as well as Aquila Distributors Inc. Her 30 years of success in the financial services industry includes creating and executing market-leading strategic plans, developing award-winning teams, and implementing multi-channel sales and marketing programs supporting global brands through start-up, growth, turnaround and transformation. Among other honors, Bruce has been named among the 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking by U.S. Banker. She is a member of The Committee of 200.
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