How does an IT executive create a roadmap for developing board opportunities?

As a board advisory consultant and executive coach, I have followed the "digital director" conversation for the last few years. This dialogue peaked in 2011 with the publication of white papers by two major players in the corporate governance arena, Deloitte and NACD, that outlined the need for tech-savvy directors in the boardroom.

I used to think the biggest disruptor to corporate strategy in the 21st century business environment was the movement of money or the movement of people. Today, I suspect the answer to that question lies in technological innovation. I believe a large percentage of the next round of shareholder wealth will come from the competitive advantages provided by technological innovation.

If you share this belief with me, this is an exciting time for you. You are on the edge of the unknown, unthinkable and unimaginable. Best-in-class IT professionals who get this vision are more than an integrated cog in the wheel of their enterprise's success, they are the next-generation board members that will help define the future of corporate growth.

If you are a perceptive IT executive and understand that technology has become a critical enabler for business, this could be a significant career stepping stone.

Step One: Create Leadership Presence

Think about the evolving role of IT. In a modern economy, IT is not only ingrained in daily business operations it is a competitive differentiator. With that in mind, what is your value proposition? Can you express it or write it in three or four sentences? Do you bring that focus and input into conversations at defining moments?

For example, if you are a CIO, your role has evolved from the back-office corporate cost center and necessary evil, to business enabler, strategic differentiator and core business value provider. Today, we are at a critical juncture for how business creates value at the intersection of strategy and IT. You must see yourself and present yourself as the critical player at that intersection.

Who else in the organization is more qualified than the CIO to add value in a company’s strategic direction if technology is the major disruptor?  If the answer is not you, then it is time to start your professional development work to become that person.

 


“Being purposeful about leadership presence in your professional self-concept spoken in value proposition terms will build the foundation to meet the challenges you may face along the way. Some of your peers will not change the way they perceive you or your role overnight. Whether it is underrating the importance of IT, conceptualizing IT in an outdated manner such as IT as a commodity or feeling threated by the change that IT represents, in some cases, there will be resistance.”


 

Key Point: Your vision of yourself and your role in the organization sets the stage for leadership presence.

Step Two: Become a Strategic Partner

Once you have the foundation of a value proposition in place, the next step you can take is to evolve your value proposition into a boundary-spanning campaign. You can identify key stakeholders in the organization and begin to be an influencer within projects that involve those people. Think of your goal to be, in general terms, like the role of the CFO with the CEO. Here are a few descriptors of that strategic partner relationship:

From the view of the board: The board often looks to the CFO to balance out the CEO in the areas that involve strategy and risk. Since the 2008 financial meltdown this relationship dynamic has only increased. How does the board view your relationship with the CEO? Is a trend emerging?

From the view of the CEO: The CFO role is critical to the CEO. The relationship is evident in who a new CEO most frequently looks to in the first 90 days on a new job. From the beginning, the CFO is a strategic partner to the CEO.  Are you seen as a key player and significant supporter of the CEO?

From the view of the CFO: The CFO has the expectation of influencing the CEO. Period. The CFO brings key insights around complex financial and investment areas that support the CEO in a unique manner. What is unparalleled about the way you support the CEO? To what degree do you have the expectation to be a strategic partner with the CEO?

To prepare for the role of a strategic partner means you must take a heads up approach to your work. Don’t get caught up in meeting the daily work load. To accomplish this, you will need to have a professional development plan with a boundary-spanning focus. You must think “big picture” and hold a personal vision for yourself and your role in the organization.

Key Point: To maximize your potential takes purposeful boundary spanning and key leadership traits for corporate growth.

Step Three: Develop a Board Candidate Position

At Davos in January of 2012 Forrester Research CEO George Colony advised attendees to set up a technological committee within each board of directors in order to prepare for an eventual technology disruption. Who better to help populate these committees than an IT executive? To realize your board potential, take the leadership position and seize the moment. This will mean you will advance your boundary-spanning and strategic acumen from the C-suite into the boardroom. We live in unprecedented times of uncertainty and challenge. Never has it been more critical for directors and officers to be capable of leading in the boardroom. The demand for strong board leadership comes at the same time that executive recruiting firms are gearing up for the biggest exit of board members in American history.

The increasing obligations of board service make it tougher than ever to recruit qualified directors. In addition, in the face of fierce public scrutiny and questions of potential liability, willing and qualified director candidates are growing ever more selective about the opportunities they entertain. This creates an opportune time for the next generation of director candidates to position themselves for board service.

Serving on a board as a career stepping stone begins with a value proposition. To create your own unique value proposition think about the following:

  • Professional background
  • Highest level experience
  • Industry niche
  • Compare the above three items with corporate governance needs for a tech-savvy director
  • Fill educational gaps with board-level training or board certificates

Follow the development of your value proposition with a comprehensive networking plan that includes learning about boards and how directors bring value to their role; list key individuals such as directors, C-suite executives and corporate governance organizations to join for network development.
Consider beginning the process by conversing with directors, C-suite executives, executive search firms, venture capitalists, attorneys and others to explore what board service might mean for you, what leadership competencies you might bring to the boardroom and what types of boards might find those competencies attractive. These conversations may lead to opportunities but the goal of the meeting is to gain as much information as possible about the world of boards.

From these interviews you should have some concrete direction on the type of board that would be the best fit for you. This could include consideration of industry, company size (micro, small, medium and larger cap) and any adjacent markets. The insights you gained from the interviews can also provide the information you will want to include in a board resume and bio.

You can now begin a list of potential companies with which to gain a board seat. Review and prioritize the list by looking at the current board of directors and their skills base. If you have a solid understanding of the company's future challenges, you can formulate how you will add value to the board in the gaps existing in the current board.

Key Point: Patience is a key factor in gaining a board seat; recruiters say it takes on average 12- 24 months for a board candidate to gain their first public board seat.

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