Find your voice in the boardroom
When you embarked on your NED journey, you were told that one of the important attributes to bring to a board room would be an ability to challenge and ask questions.
But how do you deal with being the newbie, a not so inclusive chair or very talkative fellow board members? All, or just one, of these circumstances can be difficult to navigate.
Most boards will have worked on creating a safe environment that encourages open and transparent discussions, thereby making board members feel included and be more involved and engaged in the decision-making processes.
Those boards that are in the process of appointing new members may well be looking at ways in which they can make sure the new recruit can settle in quickly and use his or her skills and experience in an encouraging and constructive environment.
There are simple steps boards can take who are looking at creating such environments: expressing a commitment to effective listening and speaking up at the beginning of the year, or even each meeting, will be a compelling way to get everybody focused on collaboration and openness.
Speaking up is important, whether or not your board is embracing ways to encourage this in all its members. There are ways you can be more adept in doing so: be curious, engaged and interested from the moment you join a board. Ask questions when the opportunity arises and double check statements, even if you are confident you understand. Share your views in an open and inclusive manner, especially in your specialist subjects. The point is to make it easier for other board members to make your voice count, hear you, and listen to you.
To put this in context, global companies like Netflix and Unilever are strong advocates of speaking up and listening well, to help generate ideas, take decisions and stay ahead of the curve.
You too can be part of creating a safer environment for open and transparent discussions. New eyes on a board will bring new ideas and insights, that is why you have been appointed. Have a one-to-one conversation with the chair, or, if you prefer to not do this on your own, find an ally amongst the other members and approach the chair together. Make sure you are clear why you are advocating for this, emphasising the win/win for the wider board and the company. Practice makes perfect! Trying out new things and speaking up at your first board meeting can be daunting, but the more you do it, the more confident you will get.
Written by Daphne Thissen. Daphne is the founder and director of Thissen Consulting, an independent client feedback agency in the construction industry. She holds two board memberships, one at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and one at the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.
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