This article was originally published by Forbes Business Council. Click here to view the original article.
In a previous article entitled “The Role of Board Service in a Meaningful Post-Career,” I discussed why you might want to consider securing a seat in the boardroom. In “How Board Sourcing Approaches Contribute to the Corporate Boardroom Diversity Problem—And What to Do About It,” I outlined two tactics to avoid being inadvertently overlooked by traditional board sourcing approaches. In my last article, “Designing a Post-Career of Board Service: Part I,” I explained how to envision your post-career and take stock of where you are now. Envisioning your post-career helps you make new meanings and forge a renewed identity as you move forward in the next chapter of life. Taking stock involves assessing your strengths and weaknesses and then formulating a development plan to support you in fulfilling this vision. In this article, I review two final steps for designing a post-career of board service by leveraging your current relationships and career experiences.
A meaningful and compelling vision generally means you have some work to do to fulfill it. To do so, you will need trusted resources who can provide sound guidance as you navigate your primary career to position yourself for your ideal post-career. Recently, I’ve had conversations with several directors, and they all emphasized the importance of mentors and sponsors, such as internal or external contacts, peers, subordinates, managers and board members, among others. Career mentors can help you make work-related decisions, navigate organizations and new industries, overcome obstacles and challenges and prepare for strategic decisions throughout your career. Career sponsors open internal and external doors to help propel you toward executive and C-suite roles. Board mentors help you prepare for board service and navigate the transition from C-suite executive to board oversight and governance. Board sponsors proactively put you in the right place at the right time to help secure your next board seat. In most cases, these relationships can form organically. For example, if you were worried about public speaking and saw somebody who was really great at it, you might consider going to lunch with that person and talking to them about public speaking and asking them to be your mentor.
But before bringing someone into your post-career advisor circle, make sure they are safe—even if that means finding your support outside your organization or industry. For example, it could be career-limiting to divulge the timing or nature of your post-career plans within your organization. This was the case for a CEO I coached. They proposed to their company’s board their plan to leave their role and be succeeded by an independent director whom they considered to be particularly talented. Worried about the CEO’s commitment to the company, the firm that owned the company removed both the CEO and the independent director from their posts. In a situation like this one, it may be helpful to seek guidance from external mentors before approaching one’s board, as they could discuss how to better bring up the plan to the board and avoid a sudden dismissal.
Having crafted your post-career vision, fortified your competencies and architected an execution plan under the watchful guidance of your advisors, it is time to create opportunities for yourself. These opportunities should be customized to your specific competencies, needs and aspirations. For example, you might seek positions that develop needed competencies (e.g., P&L experience), or you may contribute to your own company’s board by helping its committees or presenting to the board regarding your function. It is particularly important to gain these experiences if you work for a public company, as that can pave the way to a public corporate seat of your own in the future.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to mention your board service goals at every opportunity. If you set your goals of board service early in your career, you can make gaining board experience a part of every hiring conversation and select positions that would optimize board preparation and service experiences. Your new employer can even retain an executive search firm to conduct a reverse board search, wherein the firm actively secures external board seats for you and your C-suite colleagues so the employer can benefit from the expertise they gained from board participation.
Four activities can help you stay relevant and ready for board service. First, maintain active memberships in the organizations of your peers. Just a few examples include the National Association of Corporate Directors, Private Directors Association, Directors Diversity Initiative, Him for Her, 50/50 Women on Boards, Women Corporate Directors, Latino Corporate Directors Association, Ascend and The Executive Leadership Council. (Full disclosure: I’m a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors, Private Directors Association and The Executive Leadership Council.) Actively participating in these organizations will enable you to take advantage of their excellent networking opportunities through their events and keep you abreast of key boardroom concerns. Second, become a vocal advocate for yourself by networking with board recruiters and letting everyone know you are interested in serving on corporate boards. Third, continually refine your board readiness story so it communicates why you are the best candidate for the corporate board roles you seek. Fourth, lift others up by recommending them for open positions when you are unable to fill a seat offered to you.
Across this article and the last, I outlined four steps to planning a post-career of board service: envisioning your post-career, taking stock of where you are now, identifying trusted advisors and soliciting opportunities. These are critical and doable steps; however, you must begin soon—preferably now. Some start planning their post-careers in their 20s because they already have role models within their families or social networks. It can take significant time to cultivate new competencies, build relationships and create the opportunities you need to achieve a fulfilling post-career. However, following these four steps can help you find your own post-career of clarity, personal meaning and fulfillment.