5 Attributes That Indicate Boardroom Readiness

5 Attributes That Indicate Boardroom Readiness

Filter tag: Change Management and Executive Outplacement, Leadership Capability, Strategies for Growth

At any time, but especially during times of market turbulence and volatility, organisations need capable leaders at the helm, driving decision-making, determining the strategy, and delivering results. There is a greater need than ever before for diverse thinking and ideas, with the role of the board increasingly focused on practical and strategic planning requiring complex levels of problem solving. There is no set number of how many individuals can sit on the board, most organisations appoint 8 to 12 directors to lead the business forward. While competition for these roles can be fierce, there is a constant need for those equipped with the right skills, capabilities, and demeanour to add new perspectives and challenge the status quo to drive new ideas and better decision making.

It’s a challenging position to be in. Beyond steering the organisation into the future, members of the board are also responsible for answering to the organisation’s various stakeholders and are often the first to come under fire when something goes wrong. While many executives aspire to these positions at the top, the truth is that not everyone is cut out for it. So how can you tell if you are? How do you know when it’s time to take that next step and put yourself forward for a seat on the board?

While there is no singular pathway or clear recipe for success in a board position, there are key traits and mindsets in particular that successful board members usually possess. To help you determine if you are on the right path, our expert executive career coaches have identified 5 key attributes that may indicate you are ready to occupy a seat at the boardroom table.


1. You’ve got a good grasp of the general, but are also a subject matter master

Some might say that Board members need to be a jack of all trades, possessing business acumen, a solid grasp of the big picture as well as some baseline financial, operational, key market, and people knowledge. Specific C-suite roles will have their own specific niches and responsibilities inherently, but in today’s fast-moving and ever-evolving business environment, specialised experience and knowledge are becoming increasingly valuable.

Your ability to advise effectively on in-demand subjects such as digital/emerging technology, customer engagement and retention, sustainability or ESG, diversity and inclusion, corporate governance, cyber security and so on will make you an unbelievably valuable asset to the board and enable you to bring in a unique, expert perspective on specific issues that may be plaguing the business. The board becomes much more well-rounded, nuanced, and effective when these differing perspectives are on hand. Therefore, it makes sense why organisations will be looking to internally promote or bring in board members who can add something to the conversation.


2. You keep a finger on the pulse of the marketplace and an eye on the future

However, what we would have considered ‘general business acumen’ three years ago certainly differs from what is needed today.  Shifts in our ways of working, volatile market conditions, new operating models, supply chain issues, and talent shortages have created a hefty set of challenges for the board to work through. What was once considered ‘best practice’ may no longer be, and some leaders may be uncomfortable or unwilling to adapt to these changes.

Odds are, if the organisation is bringing new people onto the board in either an executive or non-executive capacity, it’s because the business needs to try something different or head in another direction. No board has ever benefitted from bringing in a ‘yes person’ who simply nods in agreement and reinforces the status quo. Many of today’s businesses need to adapt to survive and require leaders who can drive them forward.

If you are the type of person who is always thinking ahead, thinking differently, constantly learning, and adapts well to change, then you could be positioned for board success. You understand that situations change swiftly and often, and you embrace this tumult rather than allowing it to overcome you.


3. You’re a people person

When our executive career coaches say you should be a ‘people person,’ we don’t mean this in the sense that you’re outgoing and personable, though those are beneficial characteristics for any board member to have. The primary objective of the board is to further the interests of the business. However, the best way to accomplish this is by tending to the interests of your various stakeholders. Each of these groups will have their own specific needs and getting to the heart of these interests and objectives will require you to have a deep level of emotional intelligence and human understanding.

You need to be customer centric in all board-level decision making activities to meet the needs of those who the business exists to serve. You need to be a team player to ensure your people feel empowered to contribute their ideas and everything runs smoothly internally. You also need to focus on creating an organisational culture that supports the business’s efforts to acquire, develop, and retain valuable talent. But in addition to all of this, you need to be impact-driven to help reassure your investors and any shareholders that their financial interests are being served. It’s a bit of a juggling act but being able to keep your stakeholders front of mind and allowing that to drive your decision-making is imperative for any board member.


4. You aren’t afraid of the difficult conversations, and know how to conduct them tactfully

A major part of successful stakeholder management is being able to communicate effectively. The board sits atop the chain of communication, and information is fed both upwards and downwards. You need to be skilled at getting your point across and holding your own in very strategic conversations, which can at times be challenging when you’re among a group of board peers who all possess strong opinions.

In nearly all board positions, you will also need to be skilled at successfully relaying any actions or insights back down through the organisation. You need to be able to judge what information needs to be shared and how to best present it. You also should be a skilled listener who is able to make their people feel heard. Your team have the most interactions with and therefore the best grasp of the needs of your customers, so you need to be willing to hear what they have to say. Taking feedback on board without getting defensive, being able to relay it back to those who need to understand or act on it, and representing your teams and customers’ perspectives in top-level conversations goes a long way.


5. You are both self-aware, self-improving and have recognisable value

Beyond advocating for others, you need to be able to advocate for yourself. Those who are promoted to the board or who are hired onto it from outside all tend to possess a high level of self-assurance. They have worked their way up to the top and gathered valuable skills and experience along the way. Apart from the occasional bout of imposter syndrome, no senior executive has ever joined the board without believing to some extent that they belong there. If you have been thinking about this for a while, then odds are that you do, too.

Successful executive and non-executive board members know exactly what they bring to the table, whether it’s their networks, experience, specific hard skills, or reputation within the industry. They know the value of these assets and how to leverage them successfully. This most often happens through a combination of their online presence, how they carry themselves in the workplace day-to-day, their contributions to discussions, and any other professional activity. In today’s digitally driven age, there is significant value in maintaining a strong presence that demonstrates the impact, results and outcomes you can achieve. The board are often the most public-facing and scrutinised members of the organisation, so an ability to well represent both yourself and your organisation is essential.

Being a successful board member requires more than just making a strong outward impression. You should also be comfortable looking inward. If you are the type of person who is constantly learning and evolving, you are on the right track. As we touched on earlier, the business world does not stay stagnant and therefore neither should you. Know the value of what you bring to the table but keep putting in the work to continue building your value long term. Consider executive career coaching to enable you to continue growing and evolving with third-party help.


If all the factors above apply to you, then congratulations—you are likely ready to take the next step and pursue a board position. If you find that you relate to some but not all, then you can now consider areas to work on improving to better your chances of earning a voice at the boardroom table. The key word there is “earning,” as these positions aren’t just given. Those on the board work hard for their place, whether they’re hired from outside the organisation or by internal promotion. Honing your skills and doing more than just talking the talk will get you that much further up the ladder.

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