You’ve networked, positioned your board offer, and aced the board interview, and now you’re serving in a coveted board position. Now what?
If you’ve achieved your goal of serving on a board, the next step in your journey is to take on a leadership role. Do you have a strategy for elevating your board leadership?
Similar to your professional career, in your board career, you should be thinking about how you can elevate the boardroom discussion and, in turn, expand your board leadership.
There are multitude of ways that you can elevate your board leadership, but I like to focus on four ways you can develop on your board journey.
- Go outside your comfort zone
As an earlier blog post explained, moving outside your comfort zone is important by seeking challenging opportunities to learn new skills and improve your governance abilities.
When looking to move outside your comfort zone, ask yourself two questions.
First, have you thought about diversifying your board portfolio by joining boards that are in new industries or sectors? While these boards may present some level of risk, they also offer an exciting opportunity to expand your skillset.
For example, I joined the MedReleaf Corp. board in 2017. I was considered for this board because of my financial and governance expertise in the retail and consumer industries. MedReleaf went public in 2017 and was acquired in 2018 by Aurora (TSX-ACB). For me, joining MedReleaf offered an opportunity to apply my knowledge and skills from other industries to the emerging cannabis sector.
Second, have you considered joining a new committee? In my case, I am usually asked to join Audit Committees because of my financial expertise. However, sometimes it is valuable to venture outside your comfort zone and serve on a committee that presents a learning opportunity. Your skills, expertise and fresh perspective may prove to be an asset to other committees.
Branching out and joining a new committee can also open the doors to other opportunities. For example, a Special Committee (SC) comprised of independent board members is formed to address a company’s unique issues. SC issues may include a CEO search, a significant transaction or a special investigation. Such experiences provide unique and challenging opportunities to improve your skills and to increase your governance knowledge.
For more insights on moving outside your comfort zone, read this post from DirectorPrep.com, which tackles imposter syndrome.
- Consider the evolution of your board journey
To evaluate the evolution of your board journey, consider the size and stage of the boards you serve. For example, if you join the board of an emerging company, the director position is often a hands-on, value-add role. Then—as the company matures—your responsibilities will evolve, and you can expect to move into more of an oversight, foresight and insight role.
To better understand your role as a board member, refer to “Directors and Officers in Canada,” a concise and informative resource outlining a board director’s responsibilities and liabilities. After reviewing core company law concepts—notably fiduciary duties, the duty of care, reasonable diligence and good faith reliance—the publication considers potential liabilities in tort and extra-contractual liability, as well as directors’ duties in areas such as employment law, environmental law and taxation.
Second, it is essential to consider the time commitment required for a board. Each board you serve on will go through different stages, including emerging, growth, transformation, downsizing and possibly restructuring. Each stage requires a different time commitment.
Third, understand the different governance issues the company will face during your board tenure that will add to your board experience. Some governance issues that you might encounter as a board member include CEO succession/development, M&A transaction, IPO, significant investments and disruptions in the industry.
Fourth, understand that your board time commitment varies depending on the challenges and opportunities the organization faces.
- Take on board leadership roles
As your board journey matures, consider taking on board leadership roles. With experience, you may consider stepping into board leadership roles as a Chair of the Board, Committee Chair, or Lead Independent Director. Board leadership roles are invaluable in advancing your governance and leadership skills and diversifying your board experience.
i) Become a Board Chair
If your Chair of the Board is stepping down, now is your opportunity to take on this role. As part of succession planning, you may be tapped as the successor to the outgoing Chair. You can also raise your hand and let the board know you are interested in the position.
In fact, raising your hand is encouraged. In our Women Get On Board Speaker Series on May 11, 2021, Brian Hayward, author of The Great Chair, said that qualified candidates should not wait to be asked. Instead, make it known that you are interested in taking on the open leadership role. If you’re worried you’re not prepared, don’t let that deter you. Brian explained that the only way to learn is to start chairing.
“Think of it like riding a bicycle, playing the guitar or water-skiing,” said Brian. “You can’t read it in a book. You don’t know what it is until you get into that mode.”
Brian’s advice provides an excellent foundation to help any budding board chair. Great chairs learn by doing. As part of the journey, you will make mistakes. The key is to learn from them. As a new chair, ask for feedback about your performance. Take it in and adjust. Before long, you will be on the path to becoming a truly great chair.
ii) Take on the Chair role of a Committee
A natural progression for you in your board leadership is to evolve into the Chair of a Committee you have been serving. Learn from the current Chair and be ready to take on that Chair role; this is also part of succession planning.
For valuable tips to help you build your skills as a Committee Chair, refer to Boardable’s Committee Chair Breakdown of Vital Skills and Duties. As the guide explains:
“The success of a committee chair will ultimately depend on their willingness to learn and how proactive they are toward becoming better communicators. Please encourage them to continuously grow by leveraging these best practices, reaching out to your organization’s current and former chairs, and researching advice from other organizations’ committee chairs. In no time, they’ll transform into the leaders your organization needs.”
iii) Step up as Lead Independent Director (LID)
A Lead Independent Director role is created for corporate boards where the board chair is not independent, including when the role is combined with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). A LID’s presence on the board is vital to ensure an independent counterbalance to the chair.
I am currently the Lead Independent Director at Taal Distributed Information Technologies Inc. (CSE: Taal). For a better understanding of the role, click here for the position description.
The diagram below is also a helpful illustration, highlighting the role and duties of the Lead Independent Director.
The Role of the LID
Image source: https://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2018/11/25/the-role-of-the-lead-independent-director/
4. Build on your board leadership and governance skills
i) Onboarding onto a new board
An onboarding process aims to familiarize a new board member with the company, industry, board culture and practices. Onboarding onto a new board can take many forms. Some organizations and companies use relatively informal onboarding processes, while others take a more structured approach.
Regardless, board members should pursue an understanding of their role that goes above and beyond what is defined in the organization’s formal orientation program (if it has one). This DirectorPrep.com explores many key issues surrounding board onboarding. Author Alice Sayant explains: “I’ve found that to build their governance capacity, the new director must become comfortable with four different aspects of the board’s work.”
The four aspects are:
- The industry and the environment in which the organization is operating
- The organization itself—its history, operations, and culture
- The fundamentals of good corporate governance and their responsibilities as a director
- How the board operates and the culture at the board table
ii) Ongoing board education & professional development
Continuous learning is critical in your board development. Not only should you be constantly learning more about the company and industry you serve as a board member, but you should also be fostering your ongoing professional development.
My professional development has been a lifelong journey. As a CPA, I must maintain a certain number of continuing professional development (CPD) hours, which helps me to keep my learning top of mind. Fortunately, there are many programs, courses and sessions available in an endless variety of fields and areas of interest. One of my favourite go-to platforms is LumiQ, a curated library of professional development podcasts that count as verifiable CPD hours.
Additionally, Women Get On Board offers events and programs to connect, promote and empower you on your board journey:
iii) Governance certification/designation program (ICD.D, C.Dir. GCB.D, CDI.D)
A myriad of governance certification programs is available depending on your budget, time availability and the stage of your board journey. I would encourage you to explore the right program for you. Here are a few links for you to consider:
- Institute of Corporate Directors
- The Directors College
- ACE Board Certification Program – Preliminary Application
- Competent Boards Certificate & Designation Programs
iv) Find a Board Mentor
To help you develop your board leadership and governance knowledge, seek a board mentor to support and guide you. Over the years, I have been fortunate to have board mentors who have guided me in my board journey; they have been confidantes, cheerleaders and wise counsel. Thank you to all my board mentors for your support and encouragement over the years!
Since beginning my professional career over 35 years ago, I have seen the power of mentorship to affect meaningful, real-world change in advancing gender diversity in the boardroom. I outline this further in my blog post, The Power of Mentorship.
Mentorship is one reason I launched Women Get On Board Inc. (WGOB) in the first place. By creating a community of women corporate directors and aspiring women corporate directors, mentorship relationships have organically occurred and helped more women get on boards. To expand the power of mentorship, promote women leaders and accelerate their board journeys, we also launched the WGOB Mentorship Program.
Elevating your board leadership takes courage, curiosity and hard work. However, if you are prepared to take this next step in your board journey, there are a plethora of people and resources to help. How will you elevate your board leadership?