You might have been told you should pursue a board seat to advance your executive career or for other, more altruistic reasons. Alternatively, you could have envisioned board membership as a desirable move on your own. In either case, the question arises: Should you really be a board member?
How to Determine Whether Board Membership is Right for You
Start by examining your reasons for considering the pursuit of a board seat. It’s important to understand your goals before you throw yourself into the chase.
Then take a look at the expectations for a board member in light of your current situation. For example:

  • How much time is the board service likely to require?
  • How good a fit will it be for your present circumstances—both professional and personal?
  • Can you do justice to it and still fulfill your other obligations?

Non-Profit Board MemberUnless you receive an unsolicited request to serve on the board of an organization, you will also need to take into account the time and effort required to pursue possible board memberships. Even unpaid board seats can be a desirable opportunity and much sought after, especially if the organization is a prestigious one that would “look good on your resume.”
4 Reasons You Might Want to Serve on a Board of Directors

  • Professional Advancement: Board membership could increase your visibility and credibility, potentially making you more desirable to prospective employers down the road. It could also enable you to establish career-enhancing relationships you might not otherwise have access to.
  • Opportunity to Contribute (Philanthropy): Nonprofit boards can provide an excellent opportunity to “give back” to your community or to support worthwhile organizations on a larger geographical scale. You can focus on organizations that are already involved in a cause near to your heart, or you can sign on with one that’s just starting its effort to make a difference.
  • Business connections to help your employer: You and your company could benefit from having you on boards that expose you to a wide range of contacts. It’s one more form of business development that’s worth considering, even if business development isn’t a primary function of your position.
  • Additional Income (For Paid Board Positions): This probably shouldn’t be a key motivator in deciding whether board membership is right for you. Paid board seats are among the most highly desired, and there are fewer of them than the volunteer type, which means the competition will be fierce and the companies’ expectations high. Think carefully before you put effort into seeking such a position.

3 Reasons NOT to Serve on a Board of Directors

  • Unexpected Demands: The role might consume much more time and effort than you anticipate. Once you become a director, you could be expected to serve on at least one or two committees. That means you will need to prepare for and attend those meetings in addition to other board and shareholder meetings.
  • Repercussions on the Job: The work that represents your primary purpose as an executive—the position you are paid to engage in on a day-to-day basis—could suffer from the distractions and expectations imposed by your outside board service. Superman might be fast, but he can’t be everywhere at once, all the time, and still do a good job.
  • Image Damage: Maybe it’s unlikely that your service on a board would involve image problems, but it’s not unheard of and something to think about. As an extreme example: The WorldCom debacle that culminated in executive convictions for fraud in 2005 didn’t leave board members unscathed, even if they didn’t get blamed for the fraud itself.

The Final Word?
As with any other major decision involving the management of your executive career, investigate the pros and cons of board membership thoroughly. Consider their potential impact—positive or negative—on your professional career, your personal life, or both. If you ultimately decide that you should be a board member, go for it. Just do it wisely.

About Georgia Adamson
Georgia Adamson

This article was written by Georgia Adamson, MRW / ACRW, of BlueSteps Executive Career Services (BECS) and A Successful Career ( Georgia has served senior executives globally since 1993. Through intensive one-on-one consultations, Georgia helps executives uncover their strengths and highlight their most meaningful career accomplishments to position them for their next executive opportunity.

Join BlueSteps today to connect with Georgia and the other executive career coaches and resume writers of BlueSteps Executive Career Services.

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