Living in a rural area, I’m not necessarily surrounded by lots of people interested in what I do. I’ve had to work quite deliberately at making sure I stay in touch with people. I use my driving time to connect or reconnect over the phone. Networking can be hard. I drive 50,000km a year, plus a lot of flying. But networks are critical for people like me who live in isolated areas. I attend board meetings face-to-face as much as possible, because a lot of conversation that goes on outside the formal meeting is important in the context of building an organisation.
I use social media to stay in touch with people — it keeps me connected to new ideas and research. Some people go to the water cooler, I hop on Twitter or Facebook. I guess I probably have to be a little more organised than those who don’t travel so much, but I wouldn’t swap what I have. It’s the diversity of my life and the communities in which I live and work that keep me inspired.
Know your ABC
I joined the ABC board in February 2017. It’s a huge privilege to help set the strategy of our national broadcaster. The media industry is going through enormous change. What I do at a board level might never be seen on a public level, but I hope my influence is positive. If directors are doing their job, no-one actually knows they’re there. The director’s role is to make sure the organisation has the right strategy in place to provide a service to others in the future. With the ABC, that’s about making sure it’s as relevant for our grandchildren as it was for me and my children. That’s really an exciting space to be working in as a director.
Networking isn’t just about turning up to functions and being seen, it’s about connecting with people in a meaningful way and sharing opportunities. It’s also about being there for other people. It means being a sounding board, which is about being trusted.
Having a genuine interest in other people assists you — because if it’s all about trying to get your next board gig, promoting your consultancy or whatever, people tire of that quickly. They will see right through it.
Networking is about genuinely connecting with people who may be working passionately, but in silos. By connecting them, we might create a whole new magic. The more we can cross-fertilise ideas, people and industries, the more likely we can resolve complex problems. As directors, we face the challenge of making complex decisions in complex organisations, so we should seize every opportunity we are given to connect with others.
Being a great networker is also about valuing diversity. I focus on meeting a wide range of people from outside my own industry. They have different points of view and different backgrounds, and that undoubtedly adds richness to my perspective.
What can I contribute?
Certainly, one of the challenges for directors of multiple boards is that no single person knows all of my priorities or commitments at any given time. Like most people, I have commitments outside my board roles, so it’s important for me to be clear about my priorities. I also need to be clear within my own business about the time I’ve got and knowing what can be delegated. You have to decide what support systems work for you.
When new opportunities arise, it’s about asking myself, “Does it align with my values?
Do I have something that I can contribute?” And if I’m going to take on a new role as part of my board portfolio, I need to think about what I might need to let go.
Success is about what you take on, but also what you give up. And when it’s time to move on, it’s important to encourage a successor and support the succession process as well.