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Board of Directors Opportunity©

As one progresses in a career and is met with success, people take notice. On occasion, that notice takes the form of an invitation to join the board of directors of an organization. This invitation may come from a corporation, a non-profit, a civic/fraternal group or even a municipal/county government.

While such service may be important to the organization and the candidate, it is critical to follow the dictum from the Harvard School of Business: “Don’t just do something, stand there.” In other words, take a moment to ask yourself the following questions, and only agree to serve if you are satisfied with the answers. There are surely other questions one might ask, but these 12 are the minimum.

What is the reputation of the organization asking you to join? Is it widely recognized as top notch? If not, think twice.

What impact, positive or negative, might such board service have on your reputation? You’ve spent years building it, so don’t lose it in a flash.

What are the reputations of current directors? Remember that you’re known by the company you keep.

Is the board active, or does it exist merely to observe the legal niceties? If you’ve got energy and drive, the inactive board will drive you round the bend.

Are you being asked to serve as window dressing based on your industry reputation, or do they really want input from you? Too often, it is the former and not the latter.

Does the board have legitimate and functioning committees such as audit, compensation of officers, legal, nominating etc.? If not, steer clear.

Does the board actively, regularly and rigorously evaluate the CEO or executive director? Too many boards serve at the behest and pleasure of the CEO or executive director and are there to rubber-stamp decisions, not call ’em the way they see ’em. Not my kind of board, for sure.

What is to be your time commitment? How often does the board meet in person? How often by video/phone conference? Often enough to fulfill their duties? Not often enough?

If the board is that of a for-profit company, what is the compensation for attendance at board meetings whether in person, or video/phone conference? Will there be compensation for board work other than at meetings? If you must travel to meetings, will your expenses be paid? You must put a value on your time and compare it to the time commitment.

If the board is that of a non-profit, are you expected to be a financial contributor or to assist in fundraising? If so, can you afford to contribute? Are you comfortable going to others and asking for money?

Is the board covered by adequate Directors and Officers Insurance? Are board members legally indemnified? Ask for a copy of the policy and read it thoroughly.

What, in specific, have you been told is expected of you? Are you willing and able to meet those expectations? Don’t kid yourself or the organization—if you’re not, then politely decline the invitation.

L. Douglas Mault is president of Executive Advisory Institute, Portland, Ore. The website is; he can be reached at (888) 428.3331.

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