board of directors

Joining a Board of Directors: What to Consider

by Feb 3, 2021Leadership

There are a few questions you need to ask yourself before taking on the big commitment of joining a board of directors.

As many of us entrepreneurs progress in our careers over time, especially as we get older, we can develop an interest in serving on boards of other companies. This can even be part of the strategy for the back nine of your career.

That’s why in my role on a local board for the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) I’m often asked: How and why does someone get on a board in the first place?

There are a couple of elements to consider before making such a commitment.

1. Why are you doing it?

Serving on a board will require you to invest time, emotional and mental energy, as well as the opportunity cost of spending that time and energy on other things. So, you want to make sure you’re interested in the commitment for the right reasons. Not unlike how you would go about choosing a job, you want to find a good fit. And doing it just for the money probably won’t cut it. On the other hand, if you are inspired by the leaders of the organization and the vision, then perhaps it can be a great long-term fit.

2. Where do your skills and experience fit best?

Every board member has a different role, such as the financial expert, the industry maven, a general business expert, and potentially even a successor to the CEO depending on the nature of the board. So ask yourself, what role would you play?

If you have an MBA and CPA experience, you might serve best in a finance role. If you have vast experiences in a particular industry like fintech or manufacturing, then you might serve best as a domain expert. For example, I have a friend who has spent his entire career as an attorney in the utility regulation industry. He would be an ideal board candidate for a utility company looking to tap his knowledge, as the regulatory environment is critical to the success of such firms. But my friend wouldn’t be a great fit at, say, a semiconductor company.

3. Whom do you know?

What most people might not realize is that most board seats are filled through referral.  That means that when board seats open, current board members work their social networks to look for replacements. Your next board seat is likely to come from someone you know or someone they know.

You can use that same strategy in reverse. In conversations with fellow executives and on social media sites like LinkedIn, you can make it known what kind of board seat you’re looking for. The key is to be as specific as possible. It also requires patience. Board roles don’t open often. But, chances are, if you’re going to find one, it will be through one of your existing connections.

4. Are you certified?

A final strategy to consider in landing a board seat is to consider getting certified by an organization like the NACD. There are countries like Canada that have already made certification a requirement to serve on a board. And there are advocates in the U.S. who are pushing for a similar requirement. The smart move could be to get certified now in anticipation of such a shift, as there will likely be a short supply of certified board members available.

So, if you’re interested in serving on a board, take a methodical and patient approach to land the perfect fit. Look at how your skills and experience might match up with an organization you’d be inspired to work with, and whether you know someone already serving on a board that meets your specifications. You can also consider getting certified as a board member as a way to put yourself ahead of the competition.

Remember: Be patient when it comes to waiting for the perfect fit, as not all open board roles will be a perfect fit for you.