Selecting the Right Board Opportunity


Most directors would describe their first non-executive board role as a major professional milestone, a terrific growth opportunity and something they are very glad they did, even though it represented a significant commitment. Given the demands of a board position — 20-30 days a year up to nine or more years — it pays to carefully weigh the pros and cons of a given opportunity. board positionThe key question, say directors, is whether it is mutually beneficial — one that the prospective director finds engaging and useful as a growth opportunity and that adds a valuable perspective to the board. As one director put it, “You need something that will bind you to the job, because it is a lot of time.” Ask yourself, “Is this a business that I will still be interested in, say, in six to nine years’ time?”

Other considerations may be who else is on the board — especially the opportunity to work with a good chair and gain exposure to experienced executives from other industries — the strength and diversity of the management team, and how well the board and management team work together, which in part reflects how much the CEO values the board’s contribution. “I asked the CEO, ‘Do you like having a board?’ And he very honestly said, ‘Mostly.’ If he’d said to me, ‘I think they’re marvelous all the time,’ I’d know he was lying because that’s just not how executives think,” recalls one director.

When considering whether you can balance board service with other commitments, particularly if you have a full-time executive role, understand that you will likely underestimate how much time it will take, especially early on. “It took much more time than I thought would be required initially to get up to speed — to understand the business, strategies, key issues and opportunities,” one director told us. If you have to travel to meetings, plan on that adding a day or two to the board meeting commitment. You also should allow time for work related to committee assignments and, depending on your expertise, you may be tapped to mentor someone on the executive team, work on issues outside of board meetings or respond to unexpected demands related to a crisis or deal. “It can be hard to budget for that, and it can happen at the worst time. But you can’t shake off your responsibilities at the time when you’re needed most, when there’s an activist or stakeholder issue, a significant transition or a succession planning issue that you have to work through.”

Conversely, don’t immediately take yourself out of the running for a very valuable opportunity. “If I thought too much about the time commitment, there is a chance I would have turned it down, which would have been a terrible thing,” one director told us. Equally do your research; it’s amazing the sorts of businesses that initially might seem not right for you but on further research are really interesting and worth pursuing.

Want more advice about how to thrive and make an impact in your first board position? Read the rest of this comprehensive report "The Five Most Common New Director Questions: Advice for First-Time Board Directors on Getting a Strong Start" by executive search consultants at AESC member firm, Spencer Stuart.


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About the author

George Anderson's picture

George Anderson leads Spencer Stuart's Board Effectiveness services in North America. He advises clients whose boards are undergoing transitions in governance, composition and leadership.


An expert in governance and boards

  • George has been named to the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) Directorship 100, which recognizes the most influential leaders in the boardroom community, and previously one of 10 global “Rising Stars in Corporate Governance” (under 40 years old) by the Millstein Center at the Yale School of Management.
  • He has authored numerous articles on board matters for publications including Harvard Business Review and has been quoted on governance and leadership matters in media such as The Wall Street Journal.
  • George has spoken at events hosted by the American Bar Association, Corporate Board Member/NYSE Governance Services, NACD, Outstanding Directors Exchange (ODX) and others. He also convenes directors to support their development. He has created and led multiple director networks, including Spencer Stuart’s New Director Program and groups of audit committee chairs, compensation committee chairs and lead independent directors.
  • Before joining Spencer Stuart, George was a partner at Tapestry Networks and served as managing partner of the firm’s Boston office. Previously, George was a principal at Toffler Associates, a management consultancy. Earlier in his career, George was a senior consultant at Accenture and a corps member in Teach For America.

George holds an M.Ed. in human development and psychology from Harvard University and a B.A. in philosophy from Haverford College. He serves on several nonprofit boards and is a governor-appointed trustee of MassTech, a public economic development authority in Massachusetts.

Spencer Stuart is a member of the Association of Executive Search Consultants, the AESC. To learn more about Spencer Stuart, visit https://www.spencerstuart.com.

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This gives me step-by-step process to get into a board. I guess it is beyond topline and P & L. It is a comprehensive growth plan for the organization.

Thank you for sharing this article. On behalf of NEDonBoard, the professional body for NEDs & Board Members.

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