published in the Nashville Business Journal
Serving on a board—any board—is an opportunity to learn and grow in leadership. The benefits are vast:
You will develop and build relationships.
You will learn about a whole raft of different personalities.
You will be faced with a variety of problems to solve.
You will experience and have to deal with conflict.
You will overcome challenges you might never have thought possible.
I’ve been privileged to experience some of these career-enhancing board moments myself. After attending and making great contacts at several Retail Industry Leaders Association conferences, I was asked to join the organization’s board, which includes many of the largest retailers in America.
Having a front-row seat on the RILA Board was a stellar opportunity to learn from my peers and to benchmark both my personal effectiveness and the effectiveness of my company. In fact, I learned more from those associations than almost most any other professional development during those years. So how do you get started serving on a board? Start with these three questions:
What are your interests?
Consider various non-profit boards, which are nearly always seeking help from good people. Look for organizations in which you have an interest and where your skills might be most beneficial. For example, if you want to help young people, look up the local Boys and Girls Club, your local charter school or other similar organizations.
What is your industry?
Another place to seek out a board opportunity is in your trade or professional organization, where you could quickly prove a good fit. For example, I leveraged my position at Tractor Supply Company to serve on the Sponsor’s Board of the FFA, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America. This opportunity allowed me to work with leaders from top agricultural firms while learning a great deal about both farming and leadership from a variety of new acquaintances.
Who do you know?
Board opportunities can come from anywhere, so stay plugged in. When you are at a social or business networking event share business cards and ask questions. Effective networking is a key method to finding board positions. You can also fish around online. Study different organizations’ websites to see if you already know someone in management or on the board. Then call your acquaintance to inquire about opportunities to serve on the board.
Even if you don’t know someone, cold calling can demonstrate initiative. In fact, I remember receiving a cold call from a retail executive who admired Tractor Supply but had no contacts inside our company. He soon became a top-quality board member.
How to sell yourself
When you’re in the position of having to demonstrate your worthiness to a board, take an inventory of your skills to assess where you might be of greatest benefit.
Boards are always looking for at least a couple financial people. Non-profits will see those with business-management skills as a real asset. And marketing and human resources skills are also attractive to most boards.
Then prepare a one-page profile of your skills and career background—a mini-resume—to present to the selection committee.
Once you’re accepted, don’t sit back studying all the personalities in the boardroom “laboratory.” Jump in and demonstrate your worthiness—your ability to contribute in a meaningful way.
The benefits of board participation are well worth it. When you interact with other board members, your business skill base will grow as you grow.
So get on a board! Your career will thank you.