Board membership is an adventure in leadership unlike any other. Individuals who are new to the role of director will be challenged in new and unique ways. In order to meet this challenge head-on, they’ll need to continually develop their expertise while adjusting to a system of checks and balances that is meant to help bring the best decisions forward.
An experienced CEO or CFO may jump into a first-time board position with a lot of confidence, and that’s a good thing! But they also need to understand the ways in which their role will differ from the internal positions they’ve held in the past. Here are some tips for making a smooth transition from business leader to board member extraordinaire.
- Do your research.
Don’t walk into your first meeting expecting to be handed a document that will catch you completely up to speed. Do some digging in your own time; learn about the company’s past, its competitors, and its current struggles. Request copies of previous annuals reports, proxy statements, press releases, and SEC reports. Raybourn Group International advises, “If you have historical information, familiarize yourself with why leadership decisions were made. If not, ask for past board minutes to understand the background of discussions. Gather as much information as possible to optimize your efficiency as a board member.”
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Unless you’ve spent a lot of free time reading up on Robert’s Rules of Order, much of the lingo of parliamentary procedure will be new for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how it functions to ensure that you are prepared to speak up at the appropriate moments or to help push a vote forward at the proper time. You don’t have to be an expert in parliamentary procedure, but it will definitely benefit you to familiarize yourself with its processes both prior to and during your boardroom tenure.
- Get to know your peers.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but getting to know your fellow directors will make you more successful in the boardroom in the long run. Not only will you be able to acquaint yourself with each individual’s particular perspective and strengths, you’ll also be able to demonstrate the kind of knowledge and skills that you bring to the table. As AlleyWatch.com explains, “Ask your colleagues questions that showcase your unique knowledge while simultaneously expressing interest in them and the role they play in the organization. Take some time to discuss with the executives any strategic matters that they work with on a regular basis.”