Regardless of how you might be appointed, the Chairperson (or rather their motivations) is key to whether you are appointed or not. For many of you, this will seem obvious, but it is worth pausing to consider what this means for your potential appointment. So, I am going to break it down for you.
Why is the Chairperson the key to all board appointments?
Because, most obviously, they are the ultimate decision-makers who must sign off on any new appointment. Which is right and proper; after all, it is their reputation that is first on the line before anyone else’s, should your appointment not work out. Of course, they do not make their decision in a vacuum. A Chairperson has to appease many different stakeholders – internal and external, perhaps shareholders or shareholders and clients or even the CEO/executive team – which means that they need assurance that you are not a risk to their board’s dynamics or the organisation’s future. This element of risk is critical to understand.
A chair will want to protect the Board dynamics and their reputation
Many people believe that boards are a bit like a rockpool. A rockpool – like the one you might find on a headland or a beach – is a robust ecosystem thriving on change, i.e. the tide coming in and out twice a day, delivering any number of new entities into its presence which all thrive from the ecosystem in its own way. Many think a board operates the same way – as a new member joins, it adapts accordingly, and it becomes stronger for it. For some, this might be true. The reality, however, is often vastly different and there have been plenty of examples of even high-profile boards that, after the addition of a new board member, the dynamics have changed adversely. This leads to a headache for the Chair, reduces effectiveness, makes governance a challenge and, most importantly, jeopardises the reputation of the Chair. Any change to a board’s composition makes a Chair extremely nervous.
What difference does it make if a Chair thinks they are vulnerable?
In short – it makes every difference. Understanding firstly that the Chairperson is key to your appointment, means that you should target everything you do and say towards that individual. Secondly, understanding they are nervous about your potential appointment means that you must do everything you can to de-risk your appointment in their eyes and secure their well-earned reputation.
Understanding that any new appointment (yours) will change the dynamics of a board is important to grasp. Once you have, you will naturally understand that the Chairperson needs a level of comfort before appointing anyone new (you) to their board. Doing so will also give you some insight into how you might be able to facilitate this level of comfort.
If you are submitting applications without doing any research, approaching organisations not being a ‘known quantity’, not speaking to the organisation before applying, writing quick applications without detailed knowledge or expecting that your past experience will get you appointed, then you are drastically reducing your chance of getting an interview – let alone being appointed – because your potential appointment poses a risk to the reputation and livelihood of the Chair. Perhaps more than all of that, you are missing out on opportunities that you may not have even considered.
About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world