How you put yourself into play for a seat in the Board of Directors – inclusive 3 pieces of advice before entering the board room

The road to the board room is narrow and bumpy, and only a few people find the direct way. Board work requires preparation and hard work, if you have ambitions to step in and make yourself comfortable in the absolute top management of a company. Hansen Toft also recruits board members, and below you can see, what we keep a close eye on when we go hunting for the right profiles. As an add-on I will outline 3 topics for your thorough consideration, before accepting and entering the job.

In my latest blog entry I reflected on, how the board can create value for the company. But how do you get there? What does it take to ensure that the famous arrow points in your direction, when the door opens, and there is a vacancy at the board table?

Boards become more and more professional

Firstly, you must realise that the demands have been hardened. Nowadays, it is no longer sufficient to “just know somebody” or “want to do some board work”. You must know, what you want. And you must know, what you can give to the board and the company. Just like your career needs planning, so does your board career. This is related to the fact that the board is supposed to create value for the companies by contributing constructively to development and growth.

Recruiting managers and mid-level managers in our daily work, we are frequently also screening for their board potential. This professionalisation – and with it the recruitment – of boards is increasing, and therefore it will become even more relevant for us to keep a close eye on potential candidates.

Start as a volunteer

To prepare yourself for board services in the high circles you could work in less prestigious and less well-paid boards. Start as a volunteer e.g. in a homeowner’s association, sports club, school or other areas, where you do not get paid for your efforts. In return, you will profit by large amounts of useful and basic experience that will prepare you for professional boards, where the responsibility and the fee are higher.

Be motivated by desire – not the fee

Through board work you will experience that willing hands make light work, and you must be motivated by desire and not the size of the fee. Many tend to have unrealistic expectations to the fees they can reap as professional board members. However, the first board you enter will probably be in a smaller company that cannot afford to pay sky high fees.

Know your competencies

In other words, you should be motivated by the desire to make a difference for the company(ies) in question. This means that you have to be targeted and to realise, exactly what you can and will contribute to the board work. Moreover, you should get an overview of, which lines of business and even perhaps specific companies that could benefit from your competencies.

Get acquainted to the company

Do your homework and learn about the company’s specific and present challenges. Look at the composition of the present board and consider whether there are gaps as to competencies that you might be able to fill. Bringing the right intentions and competencies is not enough, it will also require the right timing for the company to make optimal use of you.

Perform in your position and make visible results

The best thing you can do to put yourself in position for a seat on the board and a board career is to perform well in your job. Although it may not come as a complete surprise, it is nevertheless important to remind you that you cannot give yourself a better starting point than creating results where you are.

To be a qualified and value adding sparring partner for the management of the company, you must, of course, know what it takes to manage and develop a company. And this is where your career either as top or middle manager comes into play, and therefore it is important that you can document your good results.

Check your options – and limitations

Speaking about your permanent employment, do not forget to check, which options and limitations your job may constitute in relation to your board ambitions. Perhaps your contract states that you are not allowed to take on unpaid work. Perhaps it states that to do so you will at least need accept from your top manager.

To some companies it is an advantage, if the employees and the management can actually bring inspiration home from other companies’ boards. I vote for this principle, but not all top managers agree with me. No matter what, it is important that you realise – not only what you can and will, but also what you are allowed to in this context.

Be visible and proactive

Once you have gained the overview of what you may, can and will contribute to the board work, you need to point it out to the outside world – and consequently to yourself. An updated CV is a must in this context, but you can definitely be even more active in order to get in the spotlight.

For once, you could take part in the public debate through columns, features or letters to the editor. Alternatively, you can do what I am doing right now, write entries to a blog and in this way share your knowledge and your attitude with the outside world. Naturally, it is essential that you have something on your mind and can tell a relevant story.

Network is still important

I know that I initiated by stating that the professionalisation of the boards is increasing, and it is a fact that more and more companies leave the handling of board recruitment to professionals. This doesn’t change the fact that it is still extremely important to nurse your network.

Most board careers start small and often in small companies that still employ the boards with somebody they know. Visibility and proactivity is not only important buzz words in the public space. It is extremely important in the formal and informal network, you are a part of through job and leisure time.

Get a board training – perhaps

A lot of people ask whether it is necessary or even relevant to get a board education. I do not have a strict answer to that. Partly because – to put it nicely – the quality of the educations offered is varying a great deal, partly because I will always insist that your professional experience and special skills are decisive for your potential to contribute to a board.

That said, board training or education could become useful, as it gives you a solid basic knowledge of the formal board issues such as legal requirements, division of responsibilities between Board of Managers and Board of Directors etc. Added to this, many of your competitors for the board positions have probably already attended one of the educations, and that alone can weaken your position compared to theirs.

3 pieces of advice before you enter the board room

When you have carried through all the preliminary exercises and are standing on the threshold to the board room, I will advise you to consider 3 issues before going all the way – and into the board.

  1. Make it clear for yourself, what you are letting yourself in for

It is important that you are familiar with the legislation and the formal demands to you as a board member. Over the last few years the demands have been sharpened. Even though you as a board member will primarily be a coach and sparring partner for the daily management of the company and contribute to strategy, development and growth, you will also face control tasks and a large, formal responsibility.

  1. Balance the expectations with the company management and the board

It is not enough that you can and will contribute to the company through your seat in the board. The company and the other board members must also be willing to acknowledge what you bring along. Just like when you consider to accept a job proposition, you must make sure that there is a good chemistry, and that your competencies and contributions will be appreciated.

  1. Be critical and dare to put your foot down

Don’t say yes, just because you see an opportunity. If you enter the board position with the right intentions of contributing positively to the company’s development, you must be sure that is what the company really wants. Say no to “aunt boards”, be critical and faithful to yourself.


I sincerely hope that I have given you the courage instead of taking it away from you, because board work can be exciting, challenging and developing. If you have questions to this blog, please write your comment below.

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