In my work as a coach to CEO’s, Chairs, Directors and senior executives we often discuss what makes for a good Board applicant. Chairs are usually thinking about this from a recruitment angle, the others from being interested applicants.
From a combination of study, research and personal experience here is a checklist that I use in advising Boards on who to look for and in advising applicants on what they need.
1. Relevant skills and experience. There is no point seeking appointment to a government racing board if you have no interest in racing and can’t tell a totalisator from a horse’s tail!
One of the very positive transformations occurring in director recruitment is the move away from requiring detailed skills and experiences that limit the field. A long list of mandatory skills and requirements has created a tendency for Boards to clone themselves. This is not a good governance practice in itself and certainly not a good way for an organisation to grow.
Skills and experiences must be relevant, with very restricted numbers of mandatory requirements.
Skills and experience must be contemporary. For example, it is hard to think of a Board that needs directors who are not IT savvy.
Also, good Boards, even those in the Not For Profit space, should not assess applicants just on the basis that a Board skill can supplement management skill gaps.
So, don’t seek a Board position unless you have relevant skills and experience.
2. Strategic Thinking. Strategic thinking is not just skill in planning. Strategic thinkers can see opportunities and pitfalls ahead. They are not just focussed on the short term tactical requirements but combine an ability to assess how current operations might be increasing risk, reducing sustainability or digressing from the mission and goals.
Strategic thinking is a key mindset and ability for directors to ensure that they operate at the right level in an organisation. Strategic thinking keeps directors out of operational matters that should be capably performed by CEOs and their teams.
So, don’t seek a Board position unless you are a truly strategic thinker.
3. Financial acumen. Many CFOs and Finance Managers make good Board members. They can bring detailed professional knowledge and literacy to the Board table. For non accountants, there is hope: learn to capably understand, interpret and interrogate financial matters. This is a relevant skill for virtually all Boards today. It is also a key requirement for capable strategic thinking.
Boards don’t need to be full of accountants however. Such imbalances create myopia, miasma and misanthropy.
Good Boards have a great balance of skills; one of them must be financial acumen in the Board as a whole but it is not the be all and end all.
So, don’t seek a Board position unless you can hold you own place on the finances of the organisation.
4. Keeping ahead of the game. This requires an ability to synthesise strategic thinking, risk management, innovation, goal congruence and planning. In some ways keeping ahead of the game requires the same mindset that good leaders have: they are always thinking about the context, what the context means at a personal level, how both those factors can be used to take a situation forward and how all that can be done with deep regard for the human beings we all are.
So, don’t seek a Board position unless you are accomplished at keeping ahead of the game.
If you have ticked all these factors in the Checklist then go out with confidence and seek to make a difference as a great Board member.
If you could not tick all four areas, talk to a good coach who works in this area to build your capability, confidence and networks.
By Ian Sampson : Ian is a Cause & Effective Associate. If you are facing obstacles as an executive, CEO or Director contact Ian here for a no-obligation exploratory chat about how coaching can offer new ways forward.