The ExecRanks Magazine / The Future of Boards

Framing Your Personal Brand for Board Opportunities

by Betsy Atkins

Private and public companies are starting to crystallize and articulate a new model for what they want from directors and advisors. Because companies are experiencing change at an accelerated rate and are struggling to keep up, CEOs and the executive team are more frequently turning to their board members for their expertise to help solve issues quickly and help drive strategies for long-term growth and success.

There is an opportunity as a perspective advisor/director to own and take control of the language and positioning for the future of the boards and define the value and impact that board members bring to the table. To be an impactful board member, you need to bring certain qualitative attributes and quantitative skills to the boardroom.

Qualitative Attributes for Highly Engaged Board Members

The qualitative attributes companies look for in their board members are headlined by a high level of engagement. Companies expect more from their board members than just showing up for quarterly board meetings. They expect advisors/directors to be in touch with the CEO on a regular basis by phone and email between meetings. This high level of engagement is critical – companies need advisors/directors who will spend their mental calories to devise ways they can move the business forward, anticipate competitive dynamics and solve issues. They want director who are willing to leverage their network and share their contact list to facilitate impactful introductions. Board members need to become a differentiator and a “competitive asset.” Directors/Advisors should be an accelerant for the business.

The days of showing up for a meeting having read your board materials and sharing a few sage opinions on strategy are over. Companies are looking for directors that engage in a meaningful, measureable ways. If you take the step of identifying the quantifiable things you can deliver, you will stand out. You’ll also sharpen your thinking by creating a specific list of ways you can contribute to the business.

Quantitative Attributes for Results-driven Board Members

In terms of quantitative attributes, companies want to see specific examples for how you will help grow and accelerate their business. At this point in your career, you are a senior and accomplished executive who has likely had an extraordinary amount of varied and valuable experiences. Pull from your own “menu” of experiences and tailor them to a crisply defined set of “projects/deliverables” that would move the company forward in differentiated way – for example; facilitating the capture of revenue, hosting a meeting that results in closing new sales, giving clear insights to help solve a problem, or making connections and introductions that will lead to a specific mutually discussed and agreed useful outcome for the company.

Companies especially look for advisors/directors who brings specific vertical industry knowledge. For example, if the business is in the health care industry, a director with knowledge in the health care systems is highly desirable. A director who brings specific functional domain knowledge to augment strengths around the table is also valuable. This could include market knowledge, product innovation, supply chain, global expansion, branding, or go-to-market strategies.

Positioning Yourself for Board Opportunities

Be very specific in how you market and position yourself for board opportunities. General “corporate speak” gets lost. Think about what you bring qualitatively that a board would consider “a must have,” and then map the quantitative strengths that you can contribute toward accelerating the company.  Identify what you would do in a concrete way that helps the company do at least one of the following: grow top line revenue, be unique against competitors, drive efficiency, or increase profit etc. These themes will resonate with the decision maker who will determine if you are the right fit.

Boards go through an informal “get to know you” process as they interview candidates. So, do your homework — delve into the company and learn about the business, the competition, and the business model. Map out your accomplishments and experiences in a way that it is directly relevant and compelling to the company. Create specific, short, crisp talking points about yourself and the value you bring. (I recommend talking points to be no longer than a tweet in length.)

Apply this specific tailored response approach when you write your resume as well. A general resume is a good starting point. Create a library of specifically tailored versions of your resume for each company you are approaching. Framing your own personal brand and tailoring it to a particular board opportunity will help position you for the right opportunity.

Change is coming. Companies are forming boards that are focused on the future of their business, and play a highly active role in driving a growth strategy for long-term success. These highly engaged, results-driven boards are seen by CEOs as a competitive advantage. They are constantly thinking about the business and how the company is positioned for its markets and competition to further long-term success. By defining your position on a board early articulating and positioning the value and impact that you bring to a company’s success, you can play a part in redefining the role of future boards.

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