So You've Been Asked to be on the Board

L. Douglas Mault

January 2007

When you accept an appointment to a board of directors, you must make a commitment to it. The word commitment comes from the Latin com (with) and mittere (to send). This became the verb committere, which means to entrust or to pledge. When asked to be on a board you should either be prepared to make the necessary commitment or to decline the opportunity.

There are many good reasons to be on a board:
• For the good of your company or organization.
• For the good of an association
• For the good of the industry.
• For personal stimulation and growth.
• To share or gain knowledge.
• To show your commitment to the organization or the industry.

There are some not-so-good reasons to be on a board:
• To "protect” your constituency.
• To get to go to neat places and hang out with neat people.
• To get to play golf.
• To get away from the office because you’ve got "work” to do.
• Because it seems like something you’re "supposed to do.”
• Because if I say no, they’ll think I don’t care.

There is no stigma attached to declining board involvement if, for valid reasons, you cannot make the requisite commitment.

Valid reasons do not include being lazy or indifferent but do include the following:
•Poor health.
•Current demands of your business or organization. At one time or another, we all have faced the reality that our commitment to our company must transcend our commitment to another organization, the industry or an association.
•Financial restraints.
•Family constraints.
•Committed involvement with another board, organization or association.

Well, what does it mean if one accepts membership on a board?

It means one must do the following:
• Care about the industry or the organization.
• Plan schedules so as to provide time for meetings.
• Prepare for the meetings. Read the agenda, think about the objectives, familiarize yourself with unfamiliar topics, ask for help if needed.
• to the meetings, be on time, give full attention and actively participate.
• Think about the board between meetings, not just the day before.
• Commit some of departmental, company or organizational resources.
• Think in global terms, i.e., for the common good.
• Work toward the highest level of participation, i.e., collaboration.

Note that if the board has a valid reason to exist, the board has to do its job and neither abdicate its responsibility nor interfere with day-to-day operations of the company, association or organization.

About the Author
L. Douglas Mault is president of the Executive Advisory Institute, Yakima, Wash.