Today more than ever, boards are opening the aperture of who they think is “board ready” to add thought diversity, gender diversity, global diversity, functional diversity, and generational diversity. Getting a board seat is a project. Think of it as business development, and you are the business.
Developing your own brand, your personal positioning, is a very important practice and the first step in landing a board seat. You will want to be crisp in distilling your career into three major digestible, thoughtful points. They should include industry background, your functional expertise, and what stage of company you are a best fit for. You want to be able to sloganize your personal brand, who you are, what you stand for, and the value you bring. Brand building can be done before you even have an opportunity, as can a general bio that outlines your background. Preparing for board roles while you are still in an operating role is important as it gives you current credibility.
Create your online profile with a view to a board seat, consider that a potential recruiter or company CEO will view your profile and ensure it reflects your best qualities as a potential board member. Your online presence should include more than just LinkedIn. You will want to consider if you have some original content that you could share that would be meaningful in your field or functional area, or experiences that you could either write about, or tweet about, or create and capture video content that would be relevant. Consider creating your own website and YouTube channel if that would be appropriate for your background. As you think about creating your media presence, it should be on a cohesive strategy that includes social media, blogs, and video content related to your operating role, and speaking opportunities. Creating a cadence of media content is important as you build your brand. Be mindful not to disclose anything that might be considered confidential or proprietary.
You build a network like you would a long term campaign. The network closest to you, with the people above you, who believe in you, will be the one that is most effective. It’s important to get the word out that you are looking for a board seat. This would include your personal networks, those you meet through business as appropriate and through friendships. People want to be on boards with other people they genuinely like and admire. Each person you meet is eventually a potential board seat connection. You want to go into any one on one meeting with some pre-thought out questions so that you come looking to listen and looking to learn from their experience. People will enjoy meeting with you when they see that you are seeking their wisdom and their experience and that you are taking notes, paying attention and that you follow up with an acknowledgement and a feedback loop to them. Always be sure to forward invest. If you have contributed to the professional relationship in advance of asking for an introduction or connection, you will have paid in first, so they feel proud to introduce you. Anytime you ask for an introduction, offer to ghost write the note for the introducer so they can personalize and send.
As each opportunity develops, you will want to customize your short-form bio, and tailor it to a specific audience along with separate bulleted talking points. You’ll want to be able to talk about your experiences that would be relevant to a company’s industry and a company’s stage. Remember, the reason they are thinking of you as a director, is they expect you to provide oversight, but in an unconscious, often unarticulated way, they want you to add value and help make the company more successful for the shareholders. As you create your bio and talking points, keep this value add in mind.
Do your homework on the person you’re going to meet. Understand who they are, their background, their values, and what would interest them. Read interviews they have given, watch videos, listen for their company jargon.
Match up what you would hope to contribute and where you would add value to their personal and professional journey and their areas of interest.
Do not come with a canned sales pitch on why you’re great. It needs to be tailored and it needs to resonate with the individual that you would be meeting with, so that you are able to demonstrate that you listen well, and you see how you can be helpful to them in their journey, and the company.
Landing your first board seat will be a longer term venture that will require constant attention and effort.
Developing your own personal brand and personal positioning is a very important first step in the process of finding the right board for you.
Fine-tune your expertise and your differentiation. In order to get on the radar of a potential board, you need to be disciplined. Your personal network will get you your next board interview so you need to care for and grow your relationships.
I hope that these takeaways, learnings, and insights will be applicable to you as you go forward in your career
Excerpted from “Be Board Ready: The Secrets to Landing a Board and Being a Great Director” by Betsy Atkins