What sort of board should you aspire to be appointed to?

Liking the idea of being a director is an insufficient reason to become one. The qualities and experience required of an effective director differ from those of an effective manager or executive. A Non Executive Directorship (NED) is a role which requires a particular blend of technical and behavioral competencies. It is not a job for everyone.

This question in the title is one that I am asked most often by aspiring and even experienced board directors. However, I think that this is often the wrong question to ask. Instead, I recommend asking yourself the question ‘If I were a Chair of a company, what sort of board would I realistically appoint myself to?’  Be critical.

Having a high level of self awareness of your individual NED qualities is important for identifying which board roles you have a good ‘fit’ for and which boards you can make a contribution to. It may be worth seeking a mentor or fellow director’s input.

For example, I counseled a client recently who had run a significant sized family owned food manufacturing business. He was convinced that he could have an effective role to play on a board of one of the major supermarkets. He may have been able to contribute but, he was never going to have the opportunity to do so because he was never going to be appointed to the board. Why? Primarily, because he did not have the: self-awareness to recognize that he was not appropriately qualified, connected or had enough experience.

The major issue here was not so much his unrealistic aspirations but rather it was his desire to be a board member but passionate about serving. This approach unfortunately had three further significant and negative impacts including:

1. He became disgruntled with his board search very quickly. Other people were deemed the stumbling blocks for his lack of board opportunities.

2. His reputation suffered. Others recognised that his arrogance in believing that he could, and should, sit on any board made him an unsuitable candidate.

3. His unrealistic aspirations translated to a personal reputational risk for those he met. As such, no new introductions were forthcoming despite, no doubt, that those he met could have helped him on his journey.

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with having big aspirations for your board career. However, based on your experience to date and having realistic aspirations as to what kind of board you could be appointed to will make a significant difference to the success of your journey.

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