The opportunity to serve on a board is not only a rewarding experience, but also an amazing chance to work alongside other smart and seasoned professionals, build your professional network and skills, and gain access to intimate knowledge about a company’s culture, decision making processes, and governance oversight. So, after putting in the hard work to land a corporate board seat, you’ve finally found yourself appointed to the board of your dreams. Now what just do you do to be a successful board member?
One of the most important things you can do as a board member is to ensure you’re familiar with the committee bylaws. You should think of these bylaws as your operation manual as they establish the company’s management structure and procedures. This manual will keep you and your fellow board members consistent when it comes to providing proper governance and oversight to the company and help you to resolve any internal disputed or conflict.
Become Well Acquainted With Other Board Members
Your sincere interest in knowing your fellow directors, as trusted colleagues, will help immensely when tense topics come up in the boardroom. Keep in mind, most board meetings begin with a dinner or happy hour. Get to know your fellow directors; ask about their families, their interests, and their companies, and also find out what is on their mind about the company right now. It’s also a great opportunity to network.
Some board members follow this rule of thumb: speak only when you have something valuable to add, and always when you are concerned about any topic. You should also be sure to remain open-minded about the opinions of your fellow board members. Collegiality is important, the board is a team, but at the same time you can dissent, and part of your job is to be the dissenting voice, you don’t necessarily want to be the one person who’s always being argumentative. But if you’re not comfortable with something that’s going on, you need to push back.
Be a Board Member, Not a CEO
You are in a room with smart, accomplished people as your peers. Although you have a lead director and a board chair, other forms of hierarchy don’t exist, and everyone’s operational titles are irrelevant. That fact can be an exhilarating part of the intellectual and communications challenge that makes board service so attractive to many. Remember, your job is to provide oversight and guidance to management’s decisions, not to carry out operations yourself.
To be an effective board member you should be informed, prepare extensively, and ask questions. As with any important role at a company, you should also be well-versed in your company’s management structure and procedures so that you’re able to make the most effective decisions on behalf of that company.
Sheila Ronning, founder and CEO of Women In The Boardroom – an organization founded with the goal of bridging the gender gap in the boardroom – is a recognized expert on boardroom diversity and leadership. Follow her on Twitter (Twitter @RonningSheila) or reach out to her at Sheila.Ronning@womenintheboardroom.com
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