Being a board director requires a certain amount of nous, intelligence and compassion. If you’re an aspiring board director, you might be wondering whether you’ll have what it takes. But as long as you have these attributes (or are willing to learn them), you can become an effective board director.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is potentially more important than intellectual intelligence (IQ). EQ is defined simply as having the ability to monitor both your own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information as a guide for your own thinking and behaviour.
When you know yourself and how you connect with others, you are in a much better position to handle stressful situation and make better decisions.
The Ability to Commit
Commitment is one of the key aspects in an effective board director. Often, people don’t realise just how time-consuming sitting on a board can actually be. It’s not just a matter of turning up once a month for a few hours – you must also take things like committee meetings, necessary training, strategy and planning days and company events into consideration.
You may also be involved in fundraising events, networking, acting as an ambassador for the organisation, and building sustainable relationships, not just with your fellow board directors, but with the stakeholders, investors, management team and donors. This workload can be manageable, even if you have a day job. But you have to first decide whether you’re committed, because if you’re not, it will soon show.
Equanimity is a little-known but highly effective personality trait to have. It applies to the ability to remain calm, composed and collected, even under stressful or difficult circumstances. This is a beneficial attribute to have in the boardroom because tensions can become high, and arguments occur. Being able to remain calm no matter how fractious the boardroom gets will land you in good stead.
Keeping your cool when everyone else is losing theirs will help you make better decisions. Listen to your fellow board directors, even in the most heated arguments (and if you have that aforementioned emotional intelligence, this won’t be a problem for you). Communicate with two ears and one mouth, and think before you speak.
The Ability to Prepare
Being properly prepared is an essential attribute to board directors. If you’re heading into a board meeting with absolutely no idea of what’s to come, it will never look good – regardless of whether it’s your first board meeting or your fiftieth. When you are the most prepared person in the boardroom, you’re also the most influential, and that’s a highly desirable position to be in.
To be properly prepared, read all the papers before the meeting to make sure you fully understand everything that will be discussed. And if you don’t understand something, ask about it beforehand. You should also conduct prior research. Not just about the topics to be discussed, but the influences that could apply to your fellow board directors, and the key challenges that are currently being faced by the stakeholders.
The best boards are those that are diverse and respectfully so. Diversity isn’t effective if it’s met with conflict and aggression from those who have opposing ideas. Being a successful board director includes keeping an open-mind to that diversity and being vulnerable enough to admit when your mind is being changed.
While it can often be difficult to put your personal opinions aside when it comes to various topics, a successful board director will be able to take on new ideas and allow their opinions to be challenged.
Being Mindful of Your Impact
The boardroom, when run correctly, is where a lot of change can occur. This is a powerful influence that can either be positive or negative, and a successful board director will always remember to be mindful of the impact his/her decisions can make.
Thinking both on the micro and macro levels can help you take into consideration any possible ripple effect that will happen through decisions made by your board. Think about the impact your choices will make on everything, from the other board directors to the stakeholders, investors, donors and the community, and take that into account with each decision.
Part of being an effective board director is being brave and having great leadership skills, and if your personality is more prone to passivity, you might find this hard. But change will never be brought on by being passive. If you aren’t brave enough to speak up in the boardroom, especially when it’s about issues you care about, you will never be able to change things. If you want to make an impact, you have to make waves.
Bravery in the boardroom means having the ability to understand which important questions need to be asked, and having the smarts to know when you should ask them. Asking the right questions and challenging the assumptions made by both yourself and your fellow board directors can make sure your board remains on topic and on the right path.
Being Dispassionately Passionate
Passion is key to boardroom success, but being able to remain dispassionate about those passions is equally important. Often, your board might come up against highly emotive topics, and it’s important to remain as logical as you can without being blinded by your feelings on it.
It’s great to have strong feelings and beliefs, but keep in mind that remaining coldly logical about them is the only way you will be able to make better, more effective decisions.
Saying No to Good Ideas
A great director is comfortable saying no, even to the good ideas. This can be hard for some, but it’s a skill you will come to learn throughout your career. Having the ability to prioritise the best ideas while refusing others (no matter how great they may seem) will only serve to benefit your board. Focusing on the best ideas and utilising your resources accordingly will ensure you always tackle what’s most important.
If you’ve read through this list and are feeling downcast because you feel you don’t have one or more of these attributes, don’t despair. These are all learned behaviours that you can work on and achieve over time, which will help you be a successful, happy board director.