Are You Board Material? 8 Steps to Take

By Andrew Chastain

Healthcare boards are increasingly looking to diversify their membership by tabbing younger executives as members. Bringing on up-and-coming executives is a way for boards to add new skills and fresh ideas to their governance proceedings. According to a recent report on modernizing board governance from WittKieffer and Health Management Academy, boards are willing to recruit members without prior governance experience if these individuals can offer much-needed strategic expertise—and help them to add diversity to their ranks.

Serving on a board can be a rewarding experience and lead to future career opportunities. Often, the most successful executives serve on multiple boards. These positions can be paid or unpaid roles, and within or outside of the healthcare industry.

“Board service can be a great career launching pad for executives, especially those younger leaders who have backgrounds that have been traditionally underrepresented on boards,” says Rolando Gomez, executive director for NALHE, the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives. “Diverse leaders are desirable to boards as they bring unique perspectives and reflect the communities that many organizations serve.”

“Board service offers a rich career development opportunity,” says Marcos Pesquera, chair-elect for NALHE. “Governance is about being highly strategic and focusing on the future plans of an organization, in comparison to management, which focuses more on the here and now. Being on a board provides the opportunity to build a successful organization by contributing your knowledge and expertise. In addition, as an executive, it allows you to really think about the big picture and learn skills that can be applied in a variety of contexts in one’s career.”

How can younger, career-minded healthcare leaders add board service to their resumes? Board opportunities rarely just happen. They come as the result of thoughtful, deliberate planning on the individual’s part.

Developed in collaboration with NALHE, the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives, the following are essential must-do’s for preparing yourself. These are steps to take over a matter of years in order to position yourself for a board seat. 

1. Build your brand.

Do what it takes to be visible and respected in your field. This includes the big things (eg, publishing articles, attending conferences) but also little things like being professional and contributing positively to conversations on social media. Boards want to hire directors who are known and respected in their fields.

2. Prepare a board bio.

Rather than a resume, type up a one-page document that outlines why you want to serve on a board: What are your areas of expertise? What are your strengths? What have you done in your personal life that would add to your board service? It’s important to have this document as the basis for your candidacy and your elevator pitch. Know what you bring to the (boardroom) table.

3. Gauge your time commitment!

Is your life already stressful and hectic? It will get more so when serving on a board. Estimate three hours of commitment for every hour you actually spend in the board room. Make sure you (and your family) can accommodate this extra obligation.

4. Start small and simple.

A good place to start looking is for a nonprofit board seat at an organization you’re passionate about. You won’t get paid, but you’ll gain great governance experience and understand how it differs from management. In addition, some companies have junior boards that serve the purpose of grooming members for greater roles in the future.

5. Clear it with your employer.

Some employers strongly encourage their leaders to serve on community or other boards, while others are lukewarm about it, thinking it might detract from an employee’s time commitment. Before you make a major commitment, check to see if your employer has policies or preferences. And make sure there are no conflicts of interest between the two organizations.

6. Put the word out.

If you have contacts in nonprofit organizations or small or large companies, let them know you have interest in a board position. Also, look for executive search firms with board recruitment practices, and send them your bio and set up time to talk with one of their consultants.

7. Know why you’re wanted.

If you become a board candidate, are you wanted for your specific skills? Your general wisdom? For your industry connections? Each board should be able to articulate what it is that attracts them to you. Knowing why will help you to make your decision. This is especially important for diversity candidates, who won’t want to be considered simply because they “check a box.”

8. Don’t be afraid to say no.

Not every board role is right for you. As difficult as it might be, wait for a role that stirs your passion and aligns with your personal mission and brand. In addition, look for red flags. Is the organization unstable? Does it have outstanding litigation that might make a board role challenging and even put you at risk as a fiduciary? Be ready to walk away if an opportunity doesn’t feel right to you.