There are plenty of people who come past my desk beginning or expanding their board portfolio. I can usually predict with a fairly high degree of accuracy who will make it and who won’t. There are certainly desirable traits that need to be present in order to stand out from the crowd and impress the board of directors and ultimately secure board appointments. And, on the flip side of that, there are traits and characteristics that will ensure that you have a very limited board career. There are three knockout blows that I want to share with you today:
1. Lack of Business Network and Desire to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships – it never ceases to amaze me how many reasonably senior executives seem to take pride in telling me that they have not had time to develop a quality business network. Some even view it as a badge of honor. Unfortunately, if you have not taken the time to develop quality business networks and if you are not willing to develop new relationships with Non-Executive Directors, Chair’s, and Advisory Board Members, your chances of securing board seats are limited. It also speaks to an inability to curate meaningful business relationships in your life, which would further your own business career. If you cannot develop relationships, expand business networks, you are going to struggle to secure appointments and you are probably going to struggle as a brand ambassador on the Board of Directors.
2. You are a Financial Failure – ok this one is harsh, but I meet people from all walks of life who after 30+ years working in a corporate or business that doesn’t own a single asset, have a truckload of debt, and are living paycheck to paycheck. They have often had one or two divorces under their belt and are struggling to keep up with mortgage repayments or child support. They change jobs frequently to try and secure an extra amount of salary to keep their head above water. They view board appointments as a way to earn extra income and are chasing the dollar signs. In my experience, if you can’t run a household budget and balance your income, cost of living, and saving for a rainy day, placing you on the Board of Directors, responsible for millions of dollars worth of revenue or assets; is a recipe for disaster.
3. Shades of Grey Business Ethics – you know the type. The person who thinks creative accounting is a good idea and has had a stream of business arguments and legal matters around them most of their corporate life. People who like to try and make a fast buck, regardless of the consequences or collateral damage. People who like to cut corners in terms of quality and output. People who are consistently economical with the truth. They often come past my desk with just a few warning signs, or it is just a gut feeling that there is something not quite right. The obvious warning sign, they put a fake MBA or Education program on their resume. They lie about why they were fired from their job. They can’t provide you with a single reference to back them up with a whole range of excuses as to why. These are who I term the corporate grifters, and they can sometimes get onto a board with a reasonable level of ease. But eventually, they get exposed through some form of corporate wrongdoing. It’s only a matter of time.