Finally (and maybe it’s a bit late in your board search effort), take a hard look at the costs involved, not only in seeking a board seat, but even after you succeed. Are you willing and able to allot the time, work, and mindshare involved in networking, emailing contacts, updating your online presence, preparing the materials we’ve discussed, and pursuing opportunities specifically for a boardroom opportunity? Are you willing to pay dues as a director with nonprofits to build your skills?
For most of you, board-related mindshare will remain a small percentage of what occupies your life. First there are all those things that get crunched in the busy executive or business owner’s life, stuff like family, eating, sleeping, and so on. Suppose instead that we focus just on the thought, time, effort, and investment you make for your job. This is a huge portion of your waking time, and often demands the best of you. Focusing (even obsessing) on your business or job is one of the reasons you’ve reached your current level of success.
Now, carved out of this is a modest but important portion of time and effort dedicated to your personal career. Networking, company politicking, staying in touch with recruiters, building your industry and social media presence—you know the drill.
Finally—and the reason you’re reading this book—there is a tiny portion of work and mindshare you squeeze out of the above overstuffed schedule specifically for getting onto a board of directors. This entails all of the board wannabe work we’ve covered above—reading and research on boards and governance, targeted networking and outreach, and building a board-specific résumé.
Once you become an actual board member, investing time and effort becomes much more daunting. Life and career tasks must give way to fiduciary duties that have grown far more demanding over the past decade. This commitment is usually periodic for committee and board roles, but in an emergency can explode to overwhelm your Outlook planner (and that assumes no one is suing your board—yet).
There are more than just time costs—expenses for attending conferences or trainings at business schools or board groups can cost several thousand dollars a shot. Annual membership in the National Association of Corporate Directors, for example, is currently $775 yearly, and their programs, training materials, and local chapter expenses boost that further.
Finally, are you willing to invest the patience required? If you do everything right, offer the vitae and references sought in a director, and really work at your effort—you’re still likely looking at several years of outreach before it pays off—and there are no guarantees. Will you become discouraged after months of boardsmanship effort that seems to be leading nowhere? What is your personal onboarding timeline? And now, what would be a realistic timeline?
So there is a quandary facing business people when it comes to corporate boards. The effort and time demanded, both to get on a board, and certainly to serve on one, tend to be afterthoughts in our very busy careers. But both the career value and responsibility of a boardroom role are great. A seat on a board of directors is a major cap to any business career, and much sought after. But if you’re really only able to treat it as a part-time hobby, maybe it’s just not for you.
Now suppose the answer to all these questions is still “Yes.” Are you really making the commitment? Steal away for a few minutes right now with a notepad. Think back over the past week and jot down specific actions you’ve taken to make your board campaign happen. To whom have you made the mentions noted earlier? Have you worked on your board résumé? Did you take a headhunter call and bring up your board interest? Who did you email about board possibilities?
This may seem off-putting to the board wannabe. But over the years, I’ve yet to see any slackening of interest in the boardroom. A noted corporate attorney writing in Forbes observed that, when it comes to board service “the risks of being sued are too great for what you get out of it.”
Could be. However, he wrote that 50 years ago, in a 1968 article on director liability.1 Several generations of wannabes have ignored that counsel and made their way into the boardroom since then. And you will be a leader of the next generation.
1A.L. Pomerantz. September 1, 1968. “The Law: Trouble for the Top.” Forbes, p. 23.