Earning a position on a Board of Directors is a capstone achievement for many professionals. Just how do you land that coveted spot? We spoke with John T. Montford, author of the new Board Games, who shares insights for ambitious achievers who want to make a big impact.
By Jonathan Spindel
You don’t always need to be a C-level executive to earn an appointment to a Board of Directors. In fact, all you need is to distinguish yourself as an outstanding leader, develop a record of extraordinary success, and demonstrate exceptional integrity of character. Easier said than done? Of course, the road to the boardroom is not a simple path. A good guidebook can be a key resource, like Board Games: Straight Talk For New Directors and Good Governance which offers practical advice from the personal experience of successful businessmen John T. Montford and Joseph McCool.
We caught up with the Honorable John T. Montford who knows about the leadership that is so necessary in boards; he is President and CEO of his own consulting firm, and he serves as an independent director of Southwest Airlines. His prior experience includes 14 years as a Texas State Senator, Chancellorship of Texas Tech University, and many more leadership positions on corporate and nonprofit boards. He wrote Board Games to help people prepare to be more effective board members.
DEVELOP A LIFESTYLE OF LEADERSHIP
What does a Board of Directors seek when appointing a new member? In short: success. “Not just financial success,” Montford shares, “It’s success in being a leader, a community leader, a civic leader, a leader in education, a leader in industry, a leader in charity.” No matter your particular vocation, you must have the ambition and the drive to succeed. “You look for quality people,” Montford continues. “It boils down to looking at people who are successful in the ventures that they undertake in their community.”
MAKE A PLAN & MAKE YOUR MARK
If you’re serious about joining a Board of Directors, find the circles where influential leaders are, and make yourself stand out. Learn what organizations seek in a leader: achievements that signal high potential for success. Take actions to achieve success, and develop a story of yourself as a successful leader. Finally, you will need to connect with influential people who will help you get on a board.
Try organizing a fundraiser, chairing an event or gala, or contributing your skills to a worthy cause. “You will serve a lot of interesting people, a lot of successful people, and if you do a good job they’re going to notice you,” Montford advises. “They could potentially become your advocates – people who will speak up for you, recommend you, be references for you.”
THE RIGHT TRACK
When he gives lectures to business students, Montford often advises young ambitious executives to, put it simply, “stay out of trouble.” Maybe it’s ingrained from his past career as a Lubbock County District Attorney, but his advice does ring true. If a board is considering applicants and it comes down to two candidates, the decision may be made on marks of character.
“These days, just about everything you do is going to show up somewhere,” he cautions, “Including social media. So it’s important to remember that you have to avoid entanglements.” On the other hand, you can use social media to your advantage. Amplify your positive achievements, garner due recognition for your achievements, connect with influential people, and find new opportunities. Build your personal brand.
TOUT YOUR TALENTS
For an organization to do its best, it’s not enough to fill the boardroom with high achievers. “If your board doesn’t mirror the community it serves, then you’re missing the boat,” Montford emphasizes, “It’s imperative these days that boards be more diverse.” Diversity means bringing unique experiences, fresh insights, and new vision to an organization. Everyone has their own gifts and talents, and it’s important that you share your passions and your values.
Montford’s experience with Southwest Airlines is a case in point. When the company began expanding into Mexico and other southern destinations, the Board recruited former Dallas Cowboys kicker and broadcasting executive Danny Villanueva. “He was very well-respected in the Hispanic community,” Montford explains. “He was successful, he was well grounded, and helped us immensely to move into those markets where we needed help.”
When you’re on a Board of Directors, you’re accountable to the shareholders (if for-profit) the donors (if non-profit), and the organization itself. You need to be ready to lead and inspire the most influential members of your organization, but you must also be in touch with the economic climate and personal experience of the people your organization serves.
Are you ready to get started on the path to the boardroom? Want to learn more? Find Board Games: Straight Talk For New Directors and Good Governance at your local bookseller or visit BoardGamesBook.com