Crucial Tips For First-Time Board Members

Crucial Tips For First-Time Board Members

Becoming a corporate director can be the most rewarding experience especially when you get to pay it forward, but it’s important to be prepared for the role. When I took on my first corporate board role with a small, community bank that was walking distance of my office in my church. I was hyperaware that I was the sole representative member baring the brunt of “first and only” in our retrospective settings. I felt the pressure of defying stereotypes especially, around time-keeping and as a result of this, I created these top tips that I held onto that guaranteed my success:

Tip #1: Understand your role and responsibilities

As a board member, it’s important to understand your role and responsibilities. You’ll be responsible for setting the direction of the company, ensuring compliance with regulations and ethical standards, and making decisions that impact the organization. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the company’s mission, values, and strategy, and stay informed about any changes or updates. As the member of both the loan committee and investment committee where financial decisions were made. I worked hard to study loan application presentations from management and learned both the processes and underwriting standards that the bank used in its lending. If felt like I was delveoping the respect of my fellow directors, all of whom were established businessmen and woman. 

Tip #2: Build strong relationships with fellow board members and executives

To be effective in your role, it’s crucial to build strong relationships with your fellow board members and executives. This includes taking the time to get to know them, listening to their perspectives, and being willing to collaborate and compromise. Strong relationships can lead to more effective decision-making and a more cohesive board. I will never forget when I though the board were having their “real” meetings after the official meeting was finished and after I left the building. I remember being on a mission to disrupt this “secret” meeting that excluded the one black director on the board – me! Little did I know that the directors were not meeting behind my back. Through listening, observing and gaining perspective, I soon realized that they had all worked together for years and that they were all doing business with each other – legal business, accounting business, insurance business and personal investments. 

Tip #3: Be proactive and stay engaged

To be an effective board member, you need to be proactive and stay engaged. This means attending all meetings and being prepared to contribute to discussions. It also means staying informed about industry trends, market conditions, and the company’s financial performance. By staying engaged, you’ll be able to provide valuable insights and make informed decisions. One thing I am known for is running an efficient and effective meeting, making sure everyone prepares for the meeting is crucial so do not forget to be proactive in reading any documentation before the next meeting and making notes on areas you want to contribute, where necessary. 

Tip #4: Embrace diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are critical for any board to be effective. This means seeking out diverse perspectives and experiences and ensuring that all voices are heard. As a diverse individual, you bring unique perspectives to the table that can help the company better understand its customers and stakeholders. By embracing diversity and inclusion, you can help create a more inclusive and effective board. This is the paying it forward that is the most rewarding part of becoming a board member. Understanding the culture of that board, where I thought they were holding “secret” meetings, meant that I was able to pivot my perspective and realize that it was nothing to do with racial exclusion and it spared me serious embarrassment.  

Tip #5: Focus on long-term value creation

As a board member, your focus should be on creating long-term value for the company and its stakeholders. This means thinking beyond short-term gains and considering the impact of decisions on the company’s future. It also means being willing to take calculated risks and make difficult decisions when necessary to drive sustainable growth and success.

Tip #6: Continuously learn and improve

Finally, as a board member, it’s important to continuously learn and improve. This includes staying up-to-date on industry trends and best practices, seeking out feedback from fellow board members and executives, and being open to learning from your mistakes. By continuously learning and improving, you can become a more effective board member and help drive the company’s success. 

When I teach people that desire to be corporate directors, I discuss these top tips and how they have served me well on my journey and I assure you that they will serve you well too!