The Board of Directors Network in Atlanta hosted an event on June 11th that brought together a panel to discuss What I Wish I Had Known about serving on a board. As President of BDN, I have the honor of introducing our speakers. Today, the panel offered a terrific set of ideas and advice that I wanted to share it. I was struck that although they were talking about how to land a board seat and what to do when you are a new board member, their advice was easily transferable to many other situations.

The panelists were:

Kelly Barrett, Vice-President, Internal Audit and Corporate Compliance at The Home Depot. She is on the board of State Bank Financial Corporation, a company listed on NASDAQ.

Linda Welty, board member of Vertellus Specialties, Inc., and former director of Massey Energy.

Robert Barker, advisor to boards and senior executives. Bob is an attorney who has advised companies globally on issues of risk and governance.

The highlights:

  • Be prepared. Before any meetings, prepare by learning about the company. What do they do? What is their strategy? Who else is on the board? Where do your skills fit in?
  • Engage in networking, but do so for practical reasons. Focus your efforts based on your goals rather than randomly.
  • Be curious. Genuine interest in the business, strategy, culture and people is essential to landing an opportunity but especially critical to being successful once you have.
  • Think about who you want to meet with and ask for those meetings. For example, meeting with the CEO without another board member can be valuable and vice-versa. A former board member an also be a good source of information.
  • Choose your opportunities with care. You will be spending a lot of time on the work, so make sure it is a good fit.
  • Your reputation is your greatest asset. Be selective and do your due diligence.
  • Gather information experientially. If the company is a retail concern, visit the outlets. Find ways to gather data independently.
  • Think about your role models – what did they do that you admire? How can you emulate those qualities in the boardroom?
  • Make good use of being new. Fresh eyes mean you have a fresh perspective.  Offer your thoughts, that’s why you are there.
  • Show courage. Be forthright about your views, while remaining respectful.
  • Remember what your role is. In the case of a board member is to be strategic, to provide advice, support and challenge management. It isn’t easy to stay out of the management details, but it isn’t why you are there. Regardless of your role, being clear about what it is and acting accordingly is most helpful.

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