At this stage in your career, you should have well-established networks, cultivated through work and industry experience. These networks may be useful in obtaining a future board position. However, chances are that your networks lack the influence of experienced directors, whose careers you wish to emulate. Aspiring directors should be looking to fill these gaps.
Making the most of your networks
1. Have your ‘value proposition’ clear first
Be clear on why you want to be a director and what unique skills and experience you can contribute to a board.
2. Do your homework and be strategic
Do you have a particular board position you would like to apply for? Look for paths to suitable boards through existing connections, then through wider networks.
3. Invest time
Networking works best when its value is reciprocated. This takes time and commitment. Be just as willing to offer advice and assistance as you are accepting of it.
4. Reach out
Networking often involves some level of discomfort. Put yourself out there by asking questions and asking for advice. You may be pleasantly surprised by the response.
5. Be clear about your motivations
If you make a new and valuable connection, be sure to let them know in no uncertain terms what it is you are after. If you are upfront, they may be willing to assist you.
6. Be patient
The road to the boardroom can be a long one, with many disappointments along the way. It pays to be persistent and patient with your networks.
The value of mentors for aspiring directors
Mentors can be invaluable resources to aspiring and experienced directors alike. The right mentor will be invested in your career, will offer frank advice and feedback on your progress and will open up their networks to you.
We asked some of our experienced members to share their insights on their experiences with mentors and as mentors.
Naomi Edwards FAICD, professional non-executive director and Chair of Tasplan Super, was a mentee in the AICD’s flagship diversity initiative, the Chair’s Mentoring Program, which partners highly experienced female executives with chairs of ASX 200 companies for a year-long mentoring relationship.
“This, of course, was a fantastic opportunity,” says Edwards. “However, mentors can also come from the unlikeliest of places. I was recently negotiating a large merger between two super funds. As the chair of one fund, I was in frequent discussions with the other chair. Although we were on opposite sides of the negotiating table, he eventually turned into my mentor, has provided me with valuable feedback and has since recommended me for other board roles.”
Nicki Kenyon GAICD, Director at Shootsta and a member of the AICD’s Executive Committee in Singapore has been both a mentor and mentee and sees it as an excellent opportunity for both parties. “No one knows everything, and even a mentor can learn new things from this unique relationship,” she says. “A mentor can provide an informed opinion on topics and is impartial in a way that managers or peers are not.”