ONE MORE HILL TO CLIMB: Seeking Board Positions

One More Hill to Climb: Seeking Board Positions


Seeking New Title: MEMBER, Board of Directors, Publicly Traded Company:

I’ve got another hill to climb. Just when I thought I’d slogged through my last swamp, belly crawled the final pit of fire and reached the mountaintop, I’ve now learned I have another hill to climb.

A lifetime of success, a great salary, a “C” suite title… all happening at one time… for one person. Sweet!

For many of my high achieving, corporate sisters, these trappings of success – title, salary and recognition are no longer the capstone to a career well played. The top of the mountain seems to have grown a foot. The Badge of Supreme Accomplishment now seems to be one with these words on it:
MEMBER, Board of Directors, Publicly Traded Company.

Increasingly the most coveted answer to the “what’s new?” question is “Oh I just joined the Board of Directors of Truly Amazing Corp.”

The Invitation

How does one get invited to be a MEMBER of a Board of Directors? Can you send a letter… or do you wait for your Uncle Warren to lean across the dinner table and say “how about joining my Board?” That’s a probably not.

I’ve been in the business of accelerating careers of successful corporate executives for a long time. I’m a career expert and at this point I have helped not 100s but 10s of thousands of people get to where they want to be. This business of aspiring to the top of this next mountain is manageable. Like anything and everything you have to now the basics first.

The 5 ways to be invited

There are 5 key ways people get asked.
1. You are referred by someone who knows you, trusts you and can vouch for your abilities and wisdom. Whew! That’s a mouthful. But the fact is that the majority of Board seats are filled in this way.
Let me fill you in even more. If you want a board seat:

a. You have to know someone. That someone has to already be on a board.
b. You have to know someone who knows someone who is on a Board. Board members talk among themselves. It is no surprise that they ask each other for their respective thoughts about suitable candidates. Friends ask friends who they know. If you are lucky, they speak up about how special you are.
c. Someone has to know about you… even if you don’t know them. They have to know your achievement, hear you speak at a conference or have watched you from afar.

2. You already hold a Board seat and you are being sought because of that Board experience. If you already sit on a public Board, it is likely you sit on 2 more as well. Heidrick and Struggles’ Board of Directors Survey 2012 reports the average number of Boards held by each female director is actually 2.8. Being on one Board seems to lead to being on two… which may lead to another … and so on.
3. You have sought-after expertise that is valuable to a specific company at a specific point in their growth cycle. Examples might be: You know how to acquire and integrate smaller companies into larger ones. You know how to create disruptive, growth strategies. Who knows what that expertise could be! Your uniqueness and your expertise matter.
4. A search firm puts you on the slate of potential candidates. Search firms fill an unknown number of Board openings. The estimates are between 12% and 25%. These firms employ search consultants who are specialists in this kind of work. They make money doing this. Help them earn their keep. Introduce yourself to as many search consultants as possible.
5. Your privately held company gets acquired and you negotiate a Board position on the new entity as part of the deal. It could happen.

One final thought… Board membership comes with duties, responsibilities, liabilities and risk. It is an honor and duty at the same time. Wanting the title is probably the worst reason in the world for seeking the role.

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