Just before all public events were cancelled earlier this year I was invited by the Women on Boards Network to run a session on building one’s brand as a board member. It was, as I expected it would be, a lively evening with over 50 bright, engaged women in the room.
How fortunate we are in Kenya to have many women who are already competent directors, plus many more board-ready members of that gender. And how fortunate we are to have an organisation dedicated to developing women to become high-contribution board members and to link them up with organisations seeking such people.
My theme for the evening was about making a contribution, about adding value as a board member. And of course just about everything I shared would have been just the same had I been with a group of men.
The process must start by understanding oneself and appreciating what it is that one is offering. Yet too few of us have indulged in the kind of self-exploration that this requires, and here I quoted Benjamin Franklin, who found that “there are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and knowing oneself”.
But it is very doable, and I advised the good ladies to start by listing their achievements and the strengths that explain them, without bragging and without undue humility. That establishes (or rather should establish) a base for self-esteem and hence confidence and boldness.
Then, as they look back over how their lives have evolved, to identify their areas of competence, ones that are needed in the board room. Are they a financial guru, a legal eagle? A strategy wonk, a digital wizard? Is their field marketing, or talent management? Are they change champions? Which sectors do they know inside out? Is their hot spot compliance or sustainability? Have they been through challenging mergers or acquisitions? How will they add value in the post-Covid world?
More questions, now more to do with values, attitudes and behaviour. Are they trustworthy and reliable? Emotionally intelligent? Skilled communicators? Thought leaders? Disruptive innovators? Mediators and consensus-builders? Networkers? What is their risk appetite? Are they short-term problem solvers, long-term sustainability builders? And before all that, will they make the necessary time?
I also introduced the Women on Boards group to personality assessments they would benefit from undertaking, helping them to reveal more about their preferences. What role in a board team would they naturally gravitate towards?
In the language of Meredith Belbin, what “team type” are they? A “People person”, who revels in coordinating; being a team worker; or a resource person? An “Action person”, who is a task-focused pushy character; an implementer; or a perfectionist-completer? Or a “Thought person”, who is a creative; a specialist; or someone whose natural home is monitoring and evaluation? Then, are they more of an extrovert or an introvert? Guarded or open? So many questions to help a person position and further build their brand.
I also helped the group I was with to examine their suitability for being the chairperson of a board. Are they the type who can bring people together around common visions and values; run lively and useful meetings to which participants look forward; build relationships with colleagues, management and other stakeholders… and so earn the respect of all concerned?
Good governance requires boards to list the personalities, skills and exposure mix that’s needed for them to fulfill their role holistically as a team. So those seeking directors’ positions must be aware of the gaps that any board wishes to fill and match these with what they are offering.
That’s what Women on Boards Kenya helps with, and so if you are a woman who believes you are ready to sit around one of those board room tables I encourage you to reach out to them.
The last slide from my presentation to the ladies came from a disturbing study which revealed that there are more men named John running big companies in America than all women. More named David too. But at least there are more women than men named Robert or James.
Good luck, ladies, the women on boards cup isn’t yet full, but here in Kenya it is filling reasonably well.