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I’m always curious – what makes someone a really exceptional board director?

In today’s environment, board knowledge and understanding is a given.

Knowing governance, strategy, the financials? Yes, you should. This is a given.

So what makes someone exceptional? I think it’s mostly about the boardroom behaviours that you display.

Here are the simplest boardroom behaviours that boards are looking for from a board director.

Board Attendance Matters

Can you make EVERY board meeting? Can you commit to this? An exceptional board director is in the room. They have done their reading, thought about the decisions and ready to contribute to the decision making. They are not late or leaving early. It is made a priority by them to be in the room with perfect or near perfect attendance.

Board attendance really matters. If you are bringing a unique perspective into the boardroom and you’re not there to help with the decision making, the board is weaker for it.
Serve your term. Be there and make your attendance count.

A highly engaged and involved board director

An exceptional board director needs little management. They are leaders. They take responsibility for their actions they have committed to and they get the role done. Furthermore, they are involved in board meeting conversations and decision making. And they serve on at least one sub committee. They are engaged in between board meetings too, always on the lookout in their external environment for opportunities, trends and connections that might be useful.

If you’re going to be involved – be involved! Don’t just turn up and keep the seat warm. Be a supporter of the organisation, show you care, and step up.

Show humility

I’ve been fortunate to come across so many exceptional board directors in my life. And the one common thread amongst them all? They show a great deal of humility.

Exceptional board directors are intensely respectful of others, whether it’s over written communication, in conversation or in the boardroom. They tend to listen more than they talk, making sure they have a thorough understanding of the context and environment.

Furthermore, they believe in the power of the collective over any one individual. They are lifelong learners. And they are focused on adding value.

These people are an absolute pleasure to work with in the boardroom. This humility breeds trust, respect, and candor in the boardroom which is a sign of a high performing board. Humility also brings about the need and want for regular and rigorous board director evaluation processes.

Curiosity reigns

Curiosity can be a foundational skill for exceptional board directors and feed into their humility and engagement.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review article “How to Succeed on a Nonprofit Board” shares five ways a board director can be curious:
Curious about impact – Is our nonprofit making a difference to solve a problem in the community? How can the nonprofit increase its social impact?
Curious about context – How does our nonprofit compare to competing nonprofits? What is our nonprofit’s unique value proposition that would make our beneficiaries choose us instead?
Curious about money – Where does our nonprofit funding come from and where does it go each year? Why do donors and grantors give money to our nonprofit?
Curious about people – Who are our nonprofit’s stakeholders? How can we best address their needs, hopes, and aspirations?
Curious about the board – What diverse perspectives are present in the board? Does our board have all the perspectives of the beneficiaries we serve?

There is an openness to challenge the traditional wisdom and explore the options. Good board directors understand they are there to challenge each other’s assumptions and beliefs as well as those of the executive.

Create value & impact

An exceptional board director uses their skills, knowledge, networks and strengths to create value and impact. They make things happen.

They are strategic in the value they offer (they know the board/management line of separation). Whether it’s using their technical knowledge in a strategic way for the organisation, creating opportunities for partnerships or funding, supporting the executive through tough times, or sharing their wisdom at the perfect time – they make their contribution count.

And because of it, the board is successful.  They are value focused.

And they are constantly asking themselves, “How are my contributions, questions, and connections adding value to the board?”

Now over to you: Do you have any other important board director values and behaviours that you can share? Head to the Alyceum Leaders group to share your thoughts!

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