Be Introspective to Expand Your Board Portfolio

By Jena Abernathy


Director Recruitment Online Article

Every board member of a publicly traded company got their start somewhere. Many first served on nonprofit or industry-focused boards. Others achieved C-suite success in their careers and jumped straight into board service. But all mobilized their time and energy to expand and upgrade their board portfolios.

Serving on a board can benefit your career, organization, profession, and industry. Finding the best, most appropriate opportunities for expanding your board portfolio is a multistep process that involves determining what types of companies fuel your passions, analyzing the benefits of board service, and evaluating your own skills and abilities. It is probably easy to pinpoint the industries, organizations, and areas of expertise that command your interest and align with your professional goals, but it’s vital that you perform a self-assessment in preparation for any board service. Along these lines, here are some crucial steps to expand your board portfolio to ensure maximum success.

Step One: Evaluate your cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, and ethics.

Knowing where you stand on cognition and emotional intelligence and how your use of these abilities align with your personal values and ethics will help you analyze opportunities for board portfolio expansion that fit how you think and work—and can challenge you in new ways. Reflecting on these areas will also reveal your appetite to embrace change management, strategic thinking, and talent development. Here’s how you can perform a self-assessment in these areas.

Cognitive competency. Understand your level of cognitive performance by considering how you execute in areas such as attention, perception, memory, language, judgment, and thinking.

Emotional intelligence. Reflect on how you express empathy for others and manage relationships with coworkers, suppliers, partners, opinion leaders, and media. Know how you score on self-awareness and the ability to be introspective, as well as social awareness, including how you have in the past or would in the future integrate differences in culture, income, education, ethnicity, attitudes, beliefs, and values in the boardroom and when thinking about the workplace more generally.

Values and ethics. Know the personal standards and criteria by which you’ll make decisions, solve problems, resolve conflicts, and mobilize teams. Consider how you would prioritize and apply business values such as integrity, honesty, fairness, accountability, diversity, teamwork, quality, and passion to your board work and encourage your fellow directors to do the same.

This self-reflection can instill confidence and clarity as you assess and present yourself for board opportunities, as well as aid in updating your board profile or resume to attract interest from nonprofit and for-profit board decision makers. Board profiles showcase board experience and achievement, executive experience and skill sets, and special qualifications beyond formal education, including certifications, memberships, appointments, and awards. Think of examples you can include in your profile that demonstrate your cognitive, emotional, and ethical strengths.

Step Two: Identify gaps in knowledge, skill, and experience.

In addition to evaluating your mental strengths, assessing your knowledge, skills, and experience can offer a report card on your professional strengths and opportunities for enhancement.

Knowledge. Rate yourself on a 10-point scale, integrating colleagues’ feedback to pinpoint knowledge of core business competencies, including economics, accounting, finance, marketing, strategy, talent management, technology, and operations. Also assess how much you know and understand about hot-button board and business issues such as diversity, sustainability, recruitment and hiring, cybersecurity, culture, and innovation. Ask yourself how closely your knowledge aligns with a board’s interests and priorities. To what extent would your knowledge influence and impact board deliberations?  

Skill. Document, assess, and evaluate your primary and secondary business skills, including leadership, management, communication, negotiation, problem-solving, conflict resolution, collaboration, and decision-making. Consider how and where you’ve used these skills and the results you’ve achieved. Also reflect on how you could upgrade or refine these skills via training or participation in special projects. Finally, examine how your strongest skill set aligns with the character, personality, and agenda of a targeted board.   

Experience. Review previous resumes and social media profiles to determine the depth and breadth of your experience. Describe where you’ve worked or served in terms of location, industry, size, revenues, and product lines. Synthesize your experience with an “elevator statement” such as the following: “I’m a hands-on marketer and digital strategist with a deep understanding of the issues confronting the food industry. I can help a food and beverage company think strategically, elevate its brand, and meet the evolving needs of customers.” 

Keep in mind that assessing your knowledge, skill, and experience is a journey, not a destination. Try to evaluate where you’ve been and how far you’ve come in terms of new knowledge, skills, and experience. Award yourself points or letter grades for improvements, tapping friends and colleagues for input on your progress.  

In the process of creating your board resume and meeting with decision makers, the best approach is to showcase your strongest, most in-demand skills while revealing how you’ve worked to close knowledge and skill gaps, including through board education programs and joining board-focused organizations such as NACD.

Step Three: Stay open-minded, current, and relevant.

Staying informed and abreast of current issues demands tapping into business publications and websites. In addition to general business newspapers and websites, there are industry-specific publications online and in print that are more in-depth. Social media has a place in keeping up with the news as well and can keep you in touch with brand marketing and stakeholder interests.

As you access business, industry, and social media resources, keep up with board trends by scanning board-focused publications and special reports. Focus on information and analysis within highly sought-after board competencies, such as finance, compliance, strategy, and innovation.

Follow forecasts on issues that continue to rise to the top of board agendas, including sustainability; environmental, social, and governance challenges; digital transformation; cybersecurity; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and talent management in the remote and hybrid workplace.

As you think about transitioning from smaller company boards to larger or public company boards, remember that each board has its own purpose or mission, governance policies, financial focus, CEO selection and evaluation process, reporting relationships, board committees, and size. Each board also has its own board member selection criteria, board meeting frequency, board and board member evaluation process, and director tenure and term limits.  

Pay attention to these differentiators. Evaluating your interests, passions, cognitive abilities, knowledge, skills, and experience will guide you to the best, most fulfilling board opportunities.

Jena Abernathy
Jena Abernathy is a senior client partner and sector leader for health-care board services for Korn Ferry International. She is a partner in the Korn Ferry Global CEO & Board Practice and specializes in C-suite and board-level searches.