Path to Board Positions Paved with Honesty, Discipline and Hard Work

News Release for THE AUSTRALIAN
September 16, 2014

Forget the glamour and prestige of a board position.

Yes, it’s a great professional achievement, it opens up enormous opportunity and there are plenty of rewards, but getting onto a board – especially if you’re a novice – and then serving on it and doing it justice takes a lot of honesty, discipline, dedication and downright hard work.

One of the country’s preeminent governance experts, Kate Costello, whose company, Governance Matters, has been at the forefront of improving corporate governance practices and board performance for more than two decades, believes too many people are captivated by the illusion of a board position being all about glamour.

They pursue the post for the wrong reasons, they don’t fully understand the machinations of a board and they invariably become disillusioned when the mythical magic fails to materialise.

“The losers, of course, are both the individuals and the companies or organisations they serve,” says Ms Costello, who adds that by preparing properly and grasping the enormity of what they’re seeking to achieve, everyone can be a winner.

“I can’t recall how many times I’ve been asked by aspirant directors how they should go about getting on boards. My stock answer is that there is no magic bullet, no easy path; rather, it’s a process that requires honesty, discipline and good old-fashioned hard work.

“The honesty comes in providing frank and sincere answers to three key questions – do I really want this and if so, do I have what it takes…and if so, what’s the right board for me?”

Ms Costello says in answering these questions, we might find that while a board position would be ‘nice to have’, it’s impractical at this point in our lives as we’re working our way up as an executive and our career demands are such that we don’t have the time to do justice to both offices.

“My advice is always that you need to be very good at and on top of your day job before you even consider seeking a board position. It’s your first priority and if you’re excelling at it, chances are board positions will open up in due course,” she says.

“I further advise aspiring directors to do their homework and have a clear and unambiguous understanding of the role of a board, the responsibilities that come with it and just how demanding a board position can be.

“If you think serving on a board is glamourous, think again. In most cases – and when done properly – it’s a demanding and time-consuming, although rewarding, pursuit. It can be tough, too, especially when the company is not performing as expected and hard decisions need to be made.”

Ms Costello says her experience and observations of the past 20 years while working with some of the top corporates at home and abroad suggest that those who make it onto boards work hard at preparing their board biographies, highlighting their skills, passions and the positive difference they believe they can make. They then work even harder at shopping it around to the various company registers that hold the names of those interested in securing board positions and among everyone they know who might be able to influence the board positions they seek.

Those who go on to flourish in board positions, she adds, invariably possess a deep interest in and enthusiasm for the company.

“They’re passionate about the sector, they’re prepared to work very hard to understand the context of the company, the market it operates in, the competition, the products, the services, and so on. Furthermore, they have enquiring minds, they’re collegiate team players and they possess the wisdom and courage to make tough calls,” says Ms Costello.

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