Professional Development

Are you ready to become a board member?

Written by Kate Lopaze

There are few sentences that carry as much “I’ve moved up in the world” cache as, “I’m on the board.” In the corporate world, having a seat on the board—the core group of advisors and decision-makers in an organization—is a major symbol of leadership. And as many organizations look to expand and diversify their boards in order to bring in more and different perspectives to support their business, some of us who may not have been eligible before may be under consideration for such a seat.

Are you ready? Let’s look at some of the qualities (and steps you can take) that move you closer to that biggest step.

What kind of intelligence do you need?

In order to be a board member, a job title is often an entry point. But unless you’re a specific kind of VP (for example), it may be more about the qualities and experience you bring to the table. Part of this skill set is a mental transition as much as a seniority one.

Financial intelligence: One of the most effective ways to assert leadership is to accept responsibility for your group’s P&L or to learn how your group’s costs and revenue relate to the rest of the organization’s. It’s also important to understand the market in general outside your organization, and where your organization fits in.

Cultural intelligence: Work culture is more important than ever to the overall health of an organization. That means no group should be a silo. Make sure that you’re participating in initiatives across your company, or even your industry, to stay looped in on current trends.

Social intelligence: In short, talk to people! Talk to people throughout your organization, but especially those who already serve in board or leadership roles. It’s not necessarily about ingratiating yourself to score a board nomination (though let’s be honest, social capital can often help things along), but rather primarily about learning from others who have experience and understanding how the groups within your organization work together.

What kind of board member do you want to be?

Another major factor to consider is what kind of role on the board you anticipate filling. This goes back to your own personality, goals, and skill set. Are you the kind of person who sits back, listening to what everyone else has to say before making a decision? Are you the one leading the discussion? The whole point of a board is to have different voices weighing in, so you don’t need to worry about having a particular perspective or adhering to a specific philosophy. What you should do, however, is think about what kind of board member you would be. There are a few different archetypes of board member styles. Where do you fit in?

The Enforcer: Someone has to be the stickler for the rules, to make sure the organization is complying with rules and regulations while trying to build strategy and increase revenue.

The Data Wrangler: There’s usually at least one numbers wonk in any given corporate conference room, and in today’s data-driven workplace, this person fulfills an essential role. Focusing on metrics, performance, and predictive analytics can help guide organizational strategy.

The Legacy Builder: This board member focuses on how organizational decisions and strategy lay the groundwork for the company’s future, beyond current concerns. This requires balancing immediate operational and market needs with investing in the future.

The Big Picture Person: This is the person who sees what information, data, and feedback are coming in from different parts of the organization, and then looks at it holistically to see how the company is doing in the grander scheme of things.

The Diplomat: This is the person who tries to balance the voices and needs of all the different groups, making sure that each team or representative gets heard.

Again, there’s no “right” type board member, but understanding the dynamics of your own organization’s board can help you figure out where you would fit in (with your experience and style) and what value you could provide in the seat.

Whether you actually get invited to (or seated on) a board is a complex process and may depend on factors outside of your control. However, by stepping up your leadership skills and demonstrating your many accomplishments, you can help ensure that your name is in the conversation when the time comes.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.