How to Become a Welcomed Director: The First Three Months

By Lynn Clarke


Board Dynamics Onboarding Private Company Governance Online Article

You just completed multiple rounds of interviews for an outstanding board role. You made it to the finals and, happily, were invited to join the board. Woohoo! Congrats! Take a moment to celebrate because now the real work begins.

We all want to make a quick, positive impact. That’s what we’ve been successfully doing for years.  With a board role, “quick” has a different definition. The 100-day plan is meaningless. Your success or failure needs a strong foundation that will take some time to craft. For me, four elements are critical for your first three months. They are well beyond the standard onboarding process, and you’ll need to be fully committed to each of them.

  1. It’s all on you. I’ve found it helpful to contact your new board colleagues fairly quickly after being invited to join. This is especially important for members you’ve not met in the interview process. Request a half-hour conversation. Be sure to prepare three or four questions focused on learning about the board member and their informal role. Every board member has one. Remember, the conversation is not about you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by small-world connections.

  2. Find a director-mentor. You’re a mentor, right? So, why would you need one at this point in your career? It’s pretty easy to “step in it” when you don’t have the full picture or aren’t aware of historical conflicts or sensitivities. Early in my board work, I didn’t understand I could ask for help. Consequently, it took me longer than it should have to learn the lay of the land. Everyone likes to be asked for their help. There should be a few directors who will happily help you. If not, perhaps this isn’t the right board for you.

  3. Listen and learn the culture. Yes, you’re very smart and successful. But, let’s face it, you know relatively little about this new company. For example, I was an executive at PepsiCo and later had the privilege of being asked to join a Coca-Cola bottling board. Sure, I knew the industry very well, but focusing first on understanding their culture is one reason why I’ve been a board member for 11 years.

  4. Appreciation = Respect = Enjoyment. A handwritten note or at least an email thanks is a must to fellow directors as you begin your role. When directors appreciate, respect, and, yes, enjoy each other, tough discussions are easier. Several years ago, I received useful advice from a former GM director. Imagine yourself stuck in the boardroom for three full days with only bio breaks—it is much easier when private company or public company directors show appreciation and respect for each other.

Lynn Clarke
Lynn Clarke is lead independent director for Vollrath Manufacturing and serves on the boards of A. Duie Pyle, Basic American Foods, Diana’s Bananas, and the NACD Carolinas Chapter. She also is the operating partner for Jelly Belly Sparkling Water and was the 2021 NACD Private Company Director of the Year.