Stepping into a boardroom can be a pretty intimidating experience, whether it’s your first time, you aspire to get there one day or even if you’re a seasoned pro. It can be difficult to know what’s expected of you, how you should behave and what the exact protocol to follow is.
Chances are if you ask around you’ll be bombarded with a load of information on what it’s like and what you should be doing in there. And some of that advice will be good, and some of it not so good.
In this article, I’m going to be talking from my own experience about the things that no one will tell you about being in the boardroom, along with some tips on how to succeed and caveats of what to avoid at all costs.
#1 – No one has a clue what’s going on
This first one might sound like an embellished truth, but trust me when I say that no one in a boardroom is as clued up as they might seem. I could tell you any number of anecdotes from experienced directors about how surprised they’ve been at their fellow directors’ lack of knowledge… and sometimes even their own!
Particularly as a young director, it can be tempting to believe that everyone knows exactly what’s going on as opposed to you. However, you quickly realise that your fellow directors in there are simply human. They all have their own issues, blind-spots and hang-ups that they have to navigate.
Often, it’s just a case of backing yourself. You’ve been invited into that boardroom for a reason: because they believe that you have something to offer. You have skill-sets and qualities that others in that room don’t have.
Remember, the reality of being in a boardroom is that you’ve already jumped through enough hoops and proved that you deserve to be there. And therefore you’re just as prepared as anyone else.
#2 – It’s okay to speak up on the first day
One of the big mistakes that directors often make in the boardroom is not asking any questions or challenging anything. Newly appointed directors sometimes assume that just because they’re surrounded by experienced people at the table, that they’re input is not required or perhaps not even expected.
Don’t fall into this trap. Remember, you’re there for a reason: to add your unique services and expertise.
And while it’s important to note that every boardroom is different, consisting of different individuals and procedures, you should never be afraid to speak up on the first day.
#3 – Offer substance, not speculation
While I don’t wish to contradict the previous point, and firmly believe that you should make sure your voice is heard, it’s important that the input you offer is valuable and moves the conversation forward. Don’t put forth speculative opinions just for the sake of it. You don’t want to get a reputation as someone who pedals hot air.
You should feel comfortable relying on the skills and experiences that have got you this far. Ask questions that you feel need to be asked, and offer suggestions that you know would be of value to the boardroom as a whole.
#4 – The most important thing about being on a board is relationships
One of the key points we stress at Future Directors is that preparation equals influence. And when it comes to preparing yourself to enter the boardroom, there’s far more to it than reading and understanding the board papers. Instead, you need to know about your fellow board members, the managers and stakeholders of the company; find out about their motivations, challenges, wants and needs.
Some people are surprised by the importance that comes with interpersonal relationships in the boardroom. But if you do a little research into the people you’ll be interacting with, mix in a little emotional intelligence and you’ll be even more effective when you walk through the door.
#5 – The chair is the most important person in the room
There’s one relationship that holds more weight for you and your role as a director than any other – the chair. This is the person who has the power to give you influence in the room, have your say and make sure that your suggestions are held in high-esteem.
When building relationships in the boardroom, you should start with this person, especially on larger boards where it’s harder to have your voice heard.
#6 – Do your due-diligence
Of course, it’s important that you research your fellow directors and chair, but don’t forget that’s only part of the job of preparing yourself.
It’s very rare that someone will do their due-diligence on a board prior to entering it, which is why in the Future Directors Make Me a Board Director Program we encourage you to request key documentation and talk to as many people as possible before taking the role. This could involve access to accounts, policies, codes of conduct, the constitution of the organisation, past minutes – anything that gives you a better idea of what you’re getting yourself in for.
This isn’t just about preparing yourself so that you can do the best job possible, it’s also about being sure that you’re entering a board that you want to be a part of. You want to know about the environment of the board and whether it’s a good fit for your personality. And if it’s not, you’ll want to think carefully about whether it’s worth the hassle.
#7 – It’s important to know who you are and what you stand for
Don’t worry. This one isn’t as deep and philosophical as it sounds. It’s actually about knowing what your role on the board is and therefore being able to communicate it effectively to others so that your voice is heard.
The reason that this is particularly important in the boardroom is that reputations tend to precede people. Your fellow directors might have an idea of who they think you are before you even open your mouth, so it’s important that your authentic-self comes across from the get-go.
Authenticity is critical in that respect. If you know yourself and what your values are, then you won’t have to waste time convincing others of what you stand for.
I always like to say that being on a board is a lot easier and a lot harder than you’d think. And while this statement is, of course, contradictory in nature, it holds a lot of truth. On the one hand, you shouldn’t be daunted by being a director as it is, in essence, simply talking with another group of peers; on the other hand however it involves a lot of work, responsibility and commitment.
Hopefully, from reading this post you’ll feel that you know exactly how you need to prepare in order to enter a boardroom feeling confident and ready to show why you deserve to be there. And hopefully you’ll realise that, while you shouldn’t be intimidated, you should be prepared to but some work in beforehand to make sure you have the impact you’re capable of.