Getting to the boardroom: Understanding your guiding principles

This blog post was adapted from 10 Steps to a Board Seat: A Step-by-Step Guide by Meg Crofton. Read all ten steps, with additional details and insights from Meg’s journey, here.

As you look to join a board, be very sure you are grounded on why you want to serve on a board. On your worst day on a board, your reasons for being there will carry you through. Below, Meg shares the story of why she pursued board service as well as an exercise to define your guiding principles as an aspiring board director.

Is board work for you?

While joining a board is the next logical step for many in their careers, it’s not for everyone. As you go through your discovery process, ask people not only about their best board experiences but also their worst. Envision yourself in some of the worst-case scenarios and ask whether you have the interest, fortitude, and wiring to work through them.

Board work has been over-glamorized in some cases. The reality is often more time-consuming and challenging than one would expect. Each meeting requires hundreds of pages of pre-read materials, usually delivered just days before the meeting. In a crisis, it’s all hands on deck and can require a great deal of time from board members.

If your honest assessment is that you don’t think you will enjoy board work, honor that inner voice and bravely claim it. That will free you to go on to work that does feed your spirit.

Why I joined a board… define your why

My reasons for board service were initially twofold: to be in a learning environment where I could stay current with the issues leaders are dealing with, and to stay relevant and credible to do my heart work-mentoring. Later, having served on boards, I added a third reason: I have met amazing people who I have learned so much from and some, I hope, will be lifelong friends.

Others may join boards for the financial reward; that is okay too! Or, you may be passionate about contributing specific expertise or serving a company moving forward with ESG initiatives where you want to plug in as a force for good.

I think it is important to be able to articulate why you want to be on a board, to yourself and to others (and your reasons may be all of the above). Despite some very tough days serving on boards, I have always relied on my why to stay engaged with board service.

Evaluating whether a specific board is the right fit for you

I can think of few things more miserable than landing a seat on a board where you do not fit. And once on a board, it’s awkward, at best, to step off.

I began my board search with a basic list of criteria that has developed over the years. Today I have 14 characteristics I use to evaluate whether I think a board may be the right fit for me, including:

  • I prefer B to C companies as I am passionate about the end customer experience.
  • I need to be excited about the product or service and motivated by the vision/mission of the company.
  • The leadership team must care about their employees and authentically believe that a great customer experience cannot be delivered without a great employee experience.
  • Senior leadership walks the talk around diversity and inclusion, equity, equality, and belonging.
  • Strong company values, including being a force for good in the world through ESG (environmental, social, and governance) goals.
  • Collaborative culture within the board and among board members.
  • A CEO who really wants board input, who listens with humility, encourages diverse thinking, and has the confidence to make decisions. (Knowing what I know now, I now rank this as my #1.)

(For the full list of my top criteria, download the full guide here.) Make your own list of guiding principles and rank them in the order that is right for you. You are making a big decision to tie your personal brand to that of any company you serve as a board member, so I urge you to not skip this important step.

Ready to get started in your journey to a board seat? Download Meg’s 10 Steps to a Board Seat guide to get started.

Originally published at https://athenaalliance.com on May 27, 2021.

Activating the connections, knowledge, & opportunities women executives need to lead at their highest level of impact. Learn more: athenaalliance.com

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