Get ready for your first board seat with the 3 P’s

Bonita Stewart

Corporate boards have received much publicity over the past year as forward-thinking companies look to diversify their leaders and directors. Whether their impetus is economic, social, or legal, this is a welcome change after centuries of sameness. 

Securing your first corporate board seat is no easy task, but there are ways to set yourself up for success. You’ve gotten to where you are today through hard work and dedication; to be the most effective board director, consider planning and preparing for your first board seat with a similar mindset. Think about the 3 Ps as you go: preparation, positioning, and persistence.  

1) Preparation  

If you’re looking for a corporate board seat, the first thing you need to do is learn the responsibilities involved and really understand the fiduciary role of being a private or public board member. Board service is not for everyone; educate yourself first to make sure you’re ready to make the commitment.

Fortunately, there are many programs available to help prepare you for the responsibilities and necessary steps to hone your value proposition. Here are some resources I’ve found helpful. 

  • Egon Zehnder’s The Path to the Boardroom includes helpful content on how to write a board bio, position yourself, interview, and start off well.

  • Black Corporate Board Readiness (BCBR) is an online program for Black senior executives interested in public or private corporate board service.

  • NACD Accelerate is a two-year program to help executives with little or no experience in the boardroom prepare for board service.

  • Northwestern’s Women’s Director Development Program offers a more rigorous approach to corporate director training.

  • HBS Women on Boards gives women executives the right tools and direction to secure a seat on healthcare and related industry boards.

  • Yale Women on Boards helps women understand the skills required of board directors, acquire the insights needed, and launch a search for a board seat. 

2) Positioning 

Think about your career journey more intentionally. What unique skills or experiences do you have to offer that could be of use in a boardroom conversation? Look beyond your title and role to develop your professional reputation as a thought leader in your industry

Companies looking to fill a board seat generally create a “board skills matrix,” or a list of the desired skills, knowledge, and experience needed to help a board meet particular challenges. Consider your career moves carefully to garner skills and experience most commonly seen on a matrix. Remember: Not all career moves catapult you closer to the boardroom. Stay close to the P&L streams.

3) Persistence  

Securing a board seat is a long game and doesn’t happen instantaneously. The search may take a while and feel daunting at times. After all, most boards have an average tenure between six to ten years, meaning turnover and open seats are rare. 

Until your opportunity arrives, be persistent. Advocate for yourself and let others who reach out to you know when you are ready for a board nomination. Keep your bio up to date, continue to educate yourself, and be resilient in your efforts. The first board seat is the hardest to get, but after landing one, you might find more opportunities soon coming your way. 

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