Being a member of a board of directors isn't easy, but offers great rewards. Here are eight points to help improve your chances of being selected for a board
While the country club days are long gone, board membership still delivers substantial - even unparalleled - dividends. A powerful door opener and career accelerator, its benefits are numerous, from networking with an elite class of executives to the cachet it provides, positioning you as a first-rate leader, strategist and communicator.
CIOs seeking membership to this once ultra-exclusive club are in a prime position: Regulatory changes, IT's bottom-line importance and decreases in the director-supply are opening the doors wider than ever before. Even with these developments, getting there still isn't easy: Tough selection criteria, stiff competition and the relatively few CIOs on boards make it challenging.
Before jumping in, determine whether your interest is strong, honest and unwavering. Board membership is serious business requiring time, effort and risk in the form of liability: Board members can get sued personally. Are you ready to make that level of commitment and - importantly - for how long? Early departures aren't viewed positively and may leave a smudge on your record.
Once you've confirmed your commitment, there are eight activities you can undertake to help improve your odds while allowing you to maximize the professional opportunity.
Be a "new age" CIO. Harnessing technology to solve big business issues sets you apart from the CIOs of yesteryear and marks you as a progressive, "new age" CIO. Boards want technologists who are strategists, focused on great solutions - the ones who consider costs, risks and the company's mission rather than the coolest technology. Undertake initiatives that clearly advance the organization's goals.
Compile some serious results. Most directors don't just have strong track records, they have outstanding ones, putting them at the forefront of their industry. Their initiatives haven't just benefited the company but have significantly improved - even fundamentally altered - its situation. One really key initiative can be enough, turning heads while instilling confidence that you've got the right stuff. A CIO board candidate I interviewed transformed his IT organization from a fire-fighting unit into a strategic weapon, expanding its customer base while deepening client ties. His efforts stood out because of their incredible impact and, as a result, so did he.
Develop broad-based business skills. As a director, your only function isn't bridging the divide between business and IT. Rather, you need to proactively review and provide input on a wide variety of topics, from financials to marketing strategy. Cultivate broad as well as deep business skills by participating at your company's or business unit's executive table and, importantly, adding value beyond your role; acting as a liaison between business and IT groups; running a business unit; or joining other organizations such as nonprofits. Your goal is to be a strong generalist as well as exceptional specialist.
Crank up your leadership, interpersonal and communication skills. Maybe they're A-1 already, but if they're not top-notch you need to improve them. These skills are essential because you can't be effective without them: Boards require members who can spearhead issues, offer constructive feedback and work collaboratively. Develop a reputation that speaks (positive) volumes by listening and acting on 360-degree feedback, hiring a leadership coach, speaking publicly and being a collegial team player who gets things achieved through consensus.