Being a board member offers a welcome variety of experience. But successful directors offer some specific tips to succeed in a complex environment: Don’t invade other directors’ space; help build a successful team; leave your ego at the door; keep a strong strategic direction – and don’t micro-manage; make the necessary commitment of time; seek help when you need it; go beyond your comfort zone.
A UK “Serial Board Member” Explains Her Success
UK Director Angela Knight has headed up three trade associations before becoming a non-executive director on three FTSE 250 company boards – hence her self-description as a “serial board member.”
“Like other non-exec directors, I am involved in company strategy, monitoring performance and the many facets of governance and regulation. I’m also on the subcommittees like audit and risk, which are crucial, particularly in financial businesses,” she explains.
Secrets of Success
- Don’t invade other directors’ space
To succeed, she says, a director should appreciate the variety and depth of the board experience. But a non-executive director has to remember that the other directors run the company. This can be challenging for an executive who has been at the helm of organisations in the past, and can’t help thinking “there’s another way to do it.”
- Help build a successful team
A successful board member is part of a successful team, adds UK director Gerard Buckley.
“With a confident and mature CEO, there most often will be a strong lead director or chair of the board. Both of these positions must be filled with well-meaning and strong individuals of integral character. If not, the leadership on the board must be instrumental in weeding out unqualified board members and those board members who are disruptive and unprepared. Some may need coaching and others may need to be plainly relieved of their board duties,” he warns.
- Leave your ego at the door
Then, successful directors have to leave their egos at the door, Buckley insists.
“When a board consists of directors who have the company or organisation foremost in their minds and feel they don’t have to prove themselves most often make the best contribution to the company. These characteristics are most often present in confident, seasoned executives who have accumulated several years of board experience. All directors need to have their interests aligned with the company. When there is the existence of venture capital investor appointed directors, these directors need to be focused on the strategic direction of the company. That is often not the case and detracts from having a high-functioning board.”
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- Keep a strong strategic direction – and don’t micro-manage
“An organisation with a strong strategic direction where the CEO, chair, directors, and management is most often the organisation that will have a strong board and be successful. Whether it is a start-up, a charity or a Fortune 500 company. When the board is holding the CEO accountable for this strategic direction and the directors are not getting their fingers, or worse, noses, into the weeds or micro-operations of the company, the best chance of success exists,” Buckley continues.
- Make the necessary commitment of time
Buckley also insists that successful directors make the necessary commitment in time and prepare properly.
“The days are over when a board member can hold down 10 or 15 board roles. As an individual board member, you have to be committed to the agenda and work of the board you sit on. A board member should have the time and schedule flexibility to be able to attend between five and nine board meetings and another five committee meetings a year and be substantially prepared for those meetings by reading the pre-meeting materials. A director cannot deliberate and participate in a discussion without being prepared. In the case of a large bank board the suggested time commitment is half of a full-time career position. To ensure your board is high functioning, you require board members who have the proper amount of time and schedule flexibility to discharge their responsibilities properly.”
- Seek help when you need it
One tip that all experts agree on for directors is that they should not be afraid to seek help when they need it. As we’ve seen, the variety of experience in working on a board of directors is extraordinary, probably not comparable with other roles a director has taken on. It is almost certain that directors will, with some regularity, be exposed to making decisions about areas they have not previously encountered. Asking fellow directors for help is expected; the colleagues will certainly say that they’ve done just the same in the past.
- Go beyond your comfort zone
Management expert Ana Dutra, writing in the Harvard Business Review, comments that directors must not be afraid to go beyond the comfort zones they’ve established in other roles.
“The board of an international restaurant chain, for instance, played a leading role in reducing the company’s overall risk profile. Specifically, a director personally spearheaded the development and adoption of an advanced enterprise resource planning system, working hand-in-hand with internal staff. Another high-performing board immersed itself into a global financial services firm’s complex financing activities, as it successfully navigated a financial crisis. These directors went well beyond basic compliance to provide true strategic counsel,” she notes.
Diligent Boards Supports Successful Directors
Diligent Boards, the world’s leading board portal, supports board success in every way. It enables an environment for secure and real-time communication. All forms of communication are enabled and operate within the highest possible grade of threat protection.
In fact, Diligent Boards manages the full scope of a board’s moving parts through one intuitive, secure online portal. It enables board members to stay current by storing all board-related materials, like board books, and to update them in real time. With Diligent Boards, directors may easily keep up with committee meetings and all related developments.
Everything on Diligent Boards is easily searchable, with organised archives and libraries of resources.
Diligent Boards also functions from all major operating systems, so directors may choose the devices and platforms from which they wish to access it. Real-time syncing across devices is enabled.
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