Are You Hindering Your Appointment?

Reflecting on a Year of Board Candidate Interactions

(Originally appeared in the December 20th, 2021 'Across the Board' digital publication, a Board Director, Board Advisor, C-Level, and Business Leader publication reaching 27,500+ exceptional business leaders in over 70 countries with articles focused on leadership, strategy, and governance topics - sign up here)

It has been an incredibly busy year in the Board vertical with a significant number of global organizations creating, rebuilding, and more deeply evaluating their Boards. A few first-hand witnessed standouts include a significant number of public company Boards adopting the principle of not only performing their yearly Director evaluations but preceding this exercise with an overall Board Architecture Assessment (BAA) to identify gaps across a wider array of measurement points.

Additionally, the number of pre-IPO Board builds around the world seems to have exploded in 2021, likely setting up 2022 for a significant amount of public listing activity. On the pre-IPO topic, it is worth additionally mentioning the positive trend of many organizations aiming to have their fully-compliant and operationally-effective Boards up and running prior to IPO launch, essentially not waiting on the allowed post-listing grace periods to reach a majority of Independent Directors, meet Director diversity requirements, and confirm fully independent Audit, Compensation, and Nominating & Governance Committees. This can greatly help organizations' performance within their first year of being publicly listed as Board makeup distractions are already addressed, allowing the Board to focus on pressing governance and strategy issues.

All of this Board activity seems to have directly increased the number of Board Director opportunities throughout 2021, with signs this will continue through 2022 - indeed a great indicator for both aspiring and experienced Directors to land the Board seats they desire. However, some persistent problems remain with Board candidate packaging, branding, and interview decorum that is greatly limiting candidates' ability to not only gracefully progress through Nominating Committee processes, but also hinder a positive impression from the onset of the candidate engagement.

To help in laying the groundwork for the following considerations, know that many of the clients I advise on Board Architecture additionally ask for my assistance to create their Nominating Committee processes, provide trusted recommendations for viable Board candidates, and liaise with numerous search / placement organizations to ensure a robust pool of expertise and experience to choose from. In 2022 alone, this manifested into thousands of Board candidate vetting reviews and countless candidate interviews.

With this volume, it is quite easy to identify trends which inhibit a Board candidate at various stages of the process. Know that these challenges are not isolated problems solely afflicting aspiring Directors, as many self-proclaimed savvy experienced Directors are equally delinquent in their candidate packaging, branding, and interview prowess.

These shortcomings are not only extremely limiting for any potential Director candidate, but also have the ability to label you 'unfit for service' when your name and inappropriate self-representation frequently reappear to evaluators across multiple opportunities (remember that the industry is quite small).

Although there are many trends being witnessed across all entity types and industries, I will make the commitment to not overwhelm you during this holiday season! I would, however, like to share 3 observations which have become recurring topics of conversation during client candidate debriefs and viability ranking exercises. Here are just a few of the most prevalent that are seemingly entrenched in the system for various reasons - you could actually say they have become chronic:

Your Board Director Brand & Packaging: 

(for those who follow my writings, I know I touch on this topic frequently. It can't, however, be ignored due to its importance and recurring nature...)

  • Don't: Making up formats for your Board candidate submission? Ughh. Whether a warm or cold introduction, spend some time to research what is proper to submit for all Board opportunities. Missing this is an easy way to have your experience and expertise sound like management level instead of leadership, governance, and strategy level, regardless of the snazzy titles you list.
  • Do: Even if you are still submitting a Board CV or Board Resume for Board opportunities, at least know they should have a different format as compared to other submissions. More correctly called your Board Documents, the layout and content convey not only the right level for Board opportunities, but also that you did some research. What message do you think you are sending to an evaluator if you didn't even do the research to find out the proper way/materials to submit? Would I believe you are going to do proper research on other important things once a Board Member if it was not performed for something such as how to properly submit for a Board opportunity? Absolutely not. Remember the 3 pieces to properly submit for any Board opportunity: a Board Cover Letter (not just a cover letter) / a Board Bio (not a professional biography) / a Board Document (not a CV or resume)
Available Time:
  • Don't: Some things are simply better left unsaid. Refrain from pointing out you have retired. If you have retired, you may be tempted to state this in your interview. Or, as some do, state it many times as if it is a right of passage or something always viewed as a positive for the person receiving the message. For old-school Boards, this was many times the case as it fortified your 'availability' to serve. For modern Boards, your availability is already inherently expected. By overly accentuating your retirement status, this can actually undermine your viability as a Board candidate if it is taken as you are 'winding down' your career. It can also have the unintended effect of conveying that you are no longer in a position that will continually enhance your experience in an ever-changing and evolving professional world.
  • Do: Regardless of your working status, or even if retired, focus more so on your understanding of the time commitment to properly serve on a Board and that you are able to make that commitment. This is the same whether you are retired, working full time, or otherwise involved in multiple endeavors. Remember the saying from Lucille Ball, "if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it," supportive of the belief that the more things you do, the more you can do (without being 'overboarded,' of course). Clearly show your understanding of not only the time commitment to effectively serve on a Board, but also your understanding of how that time should roughly break down across various focus areas and responsibilities. (see Chapter 13 in Across The Board: The Modern Architecture Behind an Effective Board of Directors for all details of modern Board Director time commitment)
Personal Presentation & Physical Surroundings:
  • Don't: I can't believe I have to mention this one, but alas, it is required. Almost all Board interviews today, especially in the first vetting rounds, are being done virtually via video call. So tell me again why it is ok to have dogs jumping on your lap and other distractions during an interview? Has it become ok to wear a T-shirt for a professional Board interview? Mobile phone interruptions? Call me old-fashioned if you like, but trust me when I say you are not doing yourself any favors.
  • Do: Every detail matters throughout all the numerous interviews a Board candidate will participate in... and as an evaluator, I observe and document everything I see. Ability to focus remotely, choice of background, level of distraction, choice of attire, body language during discussions, comfort level with tough questions, among many others. After all, this is what your fellow Board Members will experience, as well. If you are not self-aware during an interview, chances are this will be the same scenario once serving on the Board. As a mindful candidate, spend the time to carefully choose your attire and surroundings, and contemplate the many facets in how someone is evaluating you.

Spend the time to think about how these areas relate to you and what you have been conveying in your Board candidate packaging and interviews. Even with the high volume of available Board opportunities, the amount of candidate submissions have also increased. Avoiding the common self-inflicted elimination elements should be the easy part.

Do you know all of the indicators of effective Board Director candidates?

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Mark A. Pfister Non-Executive Director | CEO | Chief Board Consultant | Corporate Strategist | Board Macro-Influencer | Speaker | Author -