Are you searching for the next leadership challenge for you? You are kicking goals at work, you’re happy with your friends and family, but you’re looking for the next opportunity to give back, broaden your skills and connect with like-minded people.
It sounds like the challenge of a community board role could be for you!
Vanessa is a successful leadership coach and mentor, having worked in various leadership positions with the Federal Government throughout her career.
She had been involved with her local school council while her children were growing up and now they had grown up and needed less of her time. She decided to start her own leadership coaching business and had got it to a point where it was successful. She was then keen to discover what it really meant to be on a board.
She had been asked in the past to step onto a community board but, in the back of her mind, she really didn’t know what this meant or involved.
This was when she started asking for recommendations of what might help her fill her knowledge gap and she was recommended the Board Ignition course.
Check out my full interview with Vanessa here..
Or read our conversation here.
Well thank you so much for joining me Vanessa. It’s really a pleasure to have you. You did the Board Ignition online course. But before we get into that can you tell me just a little bit about yourself?
Sure. Thanks for having me first of all. So, I work as a leadership coach and mentor, working in the space of cultural change in new businesses and organisations and I think I am going into my fourth year now. Prior to that my background is in various leadership positions with the Federal government for a number of years, like nearly 15 years and then I decided to create change and start my own business and I haven’t really looked back, everything is just wonderful. So that’s where I focus my time and energy mainly now.
Wonderful. So, tell me why did you decide to do the Board Ignition course? What appealed to you about it?
So, I had been wondering for a little while about what the next level was. So, having been involved in the primary school, the school council and so on, kids went on high school, I didn’t want to do that. I had all the energy that it takes to get the rocket ship off the ground and starting the business. It was beginning to be successful so I could start to look at other options. And I guess I just sort of put my feelings down into my friendship group around people I knew who were on board and a very good friend of mine, Liz McCoy over in WA recommended you and talked about the program that you ran. And I think I did a little bit of research in the background not just part because it is something I wanted to do in the future and when I felt ready to do that. So, it was a matter of being able to identify well if I do this what does it actually mean? So, I had no understanding whatsoever of what that meant and I felt for me, I wanted to commit to something knowing like fully what it was I was going to be committing to rather than just chatting to people and saying oh what do you think about your experience. So, I really appealed to me to sit through a process with someone who knew what happens and how to get involved. It just the program really, it had everything I wanted.
Was there anything that you were hesitant about?
I think by the time I committed and signed up and that was probably through one of your Facebook challenges or something I was already committed, just definitely on board. But I guess there was probably a few months in between making the decision and then signing up. So, it was just something that I would suggest it was one, not knowing how much my time commitment would be and then also if I do this then I actually have to put my money where my mouth is and do something about it and again, I didn’t know what the commitment was. So, probably that would be the only hesitation but once I was in, I was in, boots and all.
Yeah and you definitely showed you know the commitment that was required for that course and really got the most out of it which is you know really exciting for me to see. So, let’s talk about the course itself. What surprised you the most about the course?
What surprised me was just how thorough it was and how well set out it was. So, I loved the way that it was introduced. So, every module stacked on top of the module before and it felt like a really good way of building that base and that foundation. So, starting with what even are Not For Profits. because all the things that I had no idea about I got a clear distinction around that. So, I was really impressed with the way it was structured and the content and I liked the challenges as well but I found them challenging to complete given where I live and the opportunity to get out and do the things…..But it certainly, yeah it certainly was the bouncing ball that I was looking for around do this, then that, then that and so by the time you’re ready you know it was just diving straight back into the module on how to prepare your board résumé. So, that was really cool. So, probably just how thorough it was and how well set out it was; it was just what I was hoping for and it was definitely above and beyond my expectations.
Wonderful. And so, you mentioned a couple of the elements of the course but was there something that was really the most valuable part of the course for you? What was that to you?
Well I’ve done my research around what boards were near me and what board I wanted to join and so when the opportunity came up to join a board the most valuable resource was to go back into the module that talked about doing due diligence and you know getting your application together, understanding what to expect. But particularly the due diligence because that meant that I knew what questions to ask, what to research, what I already knew and just stepping through all of the resources that you had in there. And I actually invested in the additional resources that you recommended as well the book, I bought Eyes Wide Open. So, I used the two of those together in order to prepare and I did go and interview the outgoing chair and another board member and the managing director and you know and I was really fully prepared for that. Now I’m really impressed with that which was great because I don’t think everybody going through that process are a little bit taken back. So, I felt very prepared.
I think we get to that stage where we’re trying to get our first appointment and it’s exciting and that board wants us and we’re like, oh wow, they want us but then we’ve got to actually sit back and do that due diligence and go through that process and make sure it’s a good fit for you and for them.
Before I knew the course, it was probably only twelve months ago I was asked to apply for a board position and I remember being really hesitant because I didn’t know what was involved and now looking back I’m really glad I didn’t apply. You know it’s very flattering to be asked to apply but what I know now and where that organisation sat with me and you know what I’m interested in I don’t think it would have been a great fit. So, and I believe as I’ve learned through the process that board commitment isn’t just like, if you don’t like it, well, leave. You’re signing up for….. well, I’ve just signed up for three years so it’s a big commitment. So, to go in, understanding what that means I think is really valuable.
So, what did you enjoy most about the experience of the Board Ignition of course?
Well I think I’m really fortunate in that I joined the live round and that gave me the opportunity to be involved in the webinars that you were holding. We did four over the course of the program. And what I really liked about that was not only being able to come with questions but it also helped me to prioritise the course. So, it meant that knowing that the webinar was coming up I really wanted to sort of like set myself a challenge of you know have this module done by then and this module because I wanted to see it through to completion. And I remember you saying to me you know the amount of time that you spend on the actual course is pretty much equivalent to what the expectation is that you would be spending in reading all the documents and attending the meetings then that really sat well with me because I was thinking that if I can’t find a time for this I’ve got to ask one simple question can I find the time to be committed to a board role?
So, I think being able to bounce off from some of the other people that were doing it was great as well and I really enjoyed that interaction. So, that was probably one of the highlights of it. And now to know that I’ve got access to it ongoing is amazing because I do just tap back into it now that I’ve actually joined a board so I know I can go back into the bits around what’s the role we all play on the board and how can you balance that. So, I think that the value is not just been doing it but it’s about utilizing as a resource and I guess would have the fortune of being able to go through a live round which is fabulous.
Yes, so the resources are there for you ongoingly, you can tap back into it and probably as you get more experience on the board you can actually go back to those materials and look at it with different eyes as well and gain different learnings about what culture and decision making and leadership as well which is great.
And also knowing that if I was just sitting on Google and Googling I would be overwhelmed by what’s available. So, the way that you were able to break it down into the modules and you know a good website to go to the read more about this that means that I can tap into that when it becomes appropriate. So, I do like that it’s ongoing and it’s not just how to get on a board and then you’re done, it actually you know sees you through that transition phase as well which is really important for someone able to be a contributing member adding value.
So, in what ways did the Board Ignition program really help you with your goal of becoming a board director? If you could break it down.
Sure. So, I think the way that the modules were laid out they asked you to consider various board challenges or focuses for each of the module. And probably the highest value in that for me was to be able to go out and have a discussion with my network. So, I talked to a lot of people I knew about the fact that I was doing an online program, that I was interested in joining a board next year and you know could they keep their ears open for AGMs and it is so amazing that once you put it out there my network of people who read it were already on board, they had had board experience; it felt like everything second person was oh yeah I should join a board or you know I’ve been on such and such, oh I didn’t know you were the chair of that board. So, prior to doing the online program I really didn’t have those discussions with people. So, being able to put it out into my networks, there were people who approached me with board roles, this particular board role became available and people kept talking about wanting to do this and I had another person in my network who said I get these monthly magazines once I have read them I’m happy to share them with you. So, putting the word out was definitely part of the process that helped me and that was something that was you know made very clear throughout the course to be able to utilise your network and certainly in our webinars that was another suggestion, I think you made that suggestion to me directly because I’m in a regional area, there is less opportunities in the cities. So, that was highly valuable in relation to going well I feel prepared now to say I’m ready to join because I had done the groundwork to get there.
Fantastic. And you’ve alluded to it already the results what you end up with after doing the course.
Yes, during the course I put an application or an expression of interest of being on an advisory committee and that was accepted and that was great because this advisory committee was for a leadership program and that’s just my love and ambitions around leadership. And I was able then to experience that and they reported back to a board not directly but through the CEO. So, that was the first phase and then a few months later just after I finished the program as I said I was tapped on the shoulder to the place that I really wanted to become a board member at when I had a look around all of them. And everything that led up to being able to do the due diligence, having my application, having the interview, they offered me a position. So, I’ve accepted that quite happily and I’m now a board director for the next three years. So, that’s pretty exciting.
Yeah, really great outcome. And I must say you know because I think because I did….. one doing due diligence and having the conversations helped me understand what I was going to into because they are board in transition phase and potentially could disband and then recreate in the next 12 months. So, I didn’t have any surprises with that and I’ve got to talk to a few different people. And I asked the question you talked about it in the calls about culture, so how would you describe the board culture? And every person I ask that question to was taken aback. That was like, oh what a great question and so that gave me some more insight. And then when I went to the interview, the panel, the chair of the panel just said at the end of it, we are really impressed with your due diligence that really shown through. I had said during the interview when they asked about strengths and weaknesses and I talked about I actually haven’t been on a board before so I’m very new to this and I’m one of the interviewers said at the end don’t underestimate it, like that is not a problem, don’t, truly is not an issue which that I felt was one of the things that detracted for me being able to be on a board. So, that was really encouraging because everyone can make a first step somewhere and I think because I was able to really talk about my value proposition and what I could bring. I could be really honest about what I don’t have. I think they asked me one question and I’m just like I don’t know. I’ve got lots of nothing, I’ve got this but that’s a gap. And I think that honesty was appreciated because it was so well rounded with the knowledge that I had going into the interview and it was just such a great discussion and I think that yeah it was very much at show that I knew what I was coming into and they were impressed by that. So that’s really good feedback.
That’s just so wonderful to hear. I’m so excited for you and I’m so glad that the different elements of the courses helped you with that confidence and understanding of exactly what you’re getting yourself into when you take on that board position and that you have this you know different level of leadership where you are honest and vulnerable about what you have and what you don’t have and can share honestly with the board so nobody is wearing any masks, there’s no surprises and that you’re going to do it with you know the best foot forward for you and for them which is just exactly what we go through in the Board Ignition course and it’s really good to see you take the most of every opportunity, doing the readings, going to the further resources, watching the video interviews, doing the challenges and then showing you that yeah absolutely it is possible for any person to be a board director and to find that right alignment between you and the board that you want to give back to. And you have just been an outstanding example of how that can be achieved through that course.
It’s been really cool. And then even you know I think one of the first challenges was that going to an AGM, all the AGMs in our area are sort of around the same time, which i s October/November. Even though I had applied and think had been accepted onto the board that I joined I still went to a couple of AGMs for the hospital and the community centre just to get a real sense of what they are at that level; I think one of them is a paid board and the other one is close to changing to pay; it still was something that was really eye opening and it really adding value and I thought it was great. And I just don’t think I’m going to go to that myself. So, I think you know the ability to go rather than just go oh, yeah, well I’ve got a board role so why worry about it? It was that learning still there because I see the value of it and that’s really because you explained why that matters so much and yeah that would be an awesome experience too.
And I think the best directors are lifelong learners, are people who want to go out you know see what other organisations are doing, bring back the best for their organisation, have that you know external understanding of what’s happening in the community and in business and in government and then being able to bring that back to the board in a useful way. So, it’s really great thing you’ve gone off and you know continued to access some of these challenges and continue that learning that you can bring back to the board that you’ve been accepted on to and then obviously any future board that you get on to too.
Yeah. And I think this to me is such a great resource as I said earlier that one of the valuable parts of it is being able to tap back into it and that was awesome; at the time I needed the resources the most, it was just a matter of getting back in and they were right there at my fingertips. So, I look forward to continuing that as my board journey continues to come back and play around in different sizes to sort of help my understanding but also challenged by thinking. So, thank you for that.
No worries at all. Would you recommend this course to others? What would you say to somebody who is contemplating either the course or getting onto a board?
I highly recommended it and I would suggest that probably the advice you gave me about spending the time and is it an appropriate time to do it, is this for me or not? And then you know really embrace the experience and I truly believe that it has fast tracked me onto a board, one of my friends has applied for 5 board positions before she was accepted onto one and you know I kind of wondered how that experience could have been different had she gone on a program like this. So, I highly recommend for anyone at any stage in their career that is looking to be able to join a board; if you really want to have that eyes wide open approach to what it is all about, what you’re responsible for, the best way to engage and how to get there it really is a very thorough and well laid out program. So, it’s highly recommended.
Wonderful. Thank you so much Vanessa for sharing your story, your examples. And now you know your role modelling over everything that we talked about so I really appreciate your time.
Thanks Alicia, I really appreciate it.
About Board Ignition
Board Ignition is a dynamic online course that helps you fast track your board journey to get your first board position and serve a community organisation. There are 8 modules to the course which you can complete at your own pace (while you also receive an 8 week email series to help you discover the modules). Check out the course here.