Thanks to Kami Nuttall, Insight Consultant @Belonging Pioneers for this very personal share about what it takes to #ChooseToChallenge as a Board Member
Choosing to challenge the board, especially when you are a new board member is not easy. Let's face it. If you are a newbie at being a board member, then you will be faced with some anxieties. Do you face more anxieties because you are a woman? Young-ish, when compared to the majority on the board? As a person of colour?
I certainly did, as a first time board member, faced with a large board, all white, majority of members who were a lot older than I was at the time. I had A LOT of anxieties. But honestly, I have no regrets. If you get the opportunity to join a board, do it. It is life changing as an experience. But I get ahead of myself.
I've been a board member since 2014. I applied for a board position with my local housing group - South Northants Homes as it was known then. I still remember my first meeting, it was frightening, I was anxious - would I be accepted? Will I look credible? What if I sound unprofessional? What if I have nothing to say? What if I have a lot to say? My imposter syndrome was rearing its ugly head and I was worried that everyone would see.
I remember my first meeting - I remember thinking that I want to say something, I must say something, I must not leave this meeting without at least contributing something. I put up my hand to speak, and took a breath and as they say 'the rest is history'.
Choosing to challenge comes with the territory of being a board member. You are frequently told that there is no 'silly question', but it takes time to actually come to that realisation. It also takes time to realise that your voice might evolve over time - as fellow board members get to know you and vice versa, your voice grows in strength.
If you've been appointed to a board for the first time, or you are looking for your first appointment, it is important to know and understand that you will be appointed because you're credible, you've got something to add, the organisation's leadership sees value in you and that you have something to contribute to them. Whilst choosing to challenge comes with the board member territory (it is in your role description), learning to choose to challenge in the right way so you can affect change in the right way, well that takes practice, takes confidence, takes a belief in yourself. For the majority of us, we have to work at it and if you are anything like me we continue to work at it.
I have been a board member since 2014 and since then I have challenged the board and senior leadership on many different aspects of strategy and operational activity. I started with risk management, we then moved to risk appetite, and as the years went past my interest changed to corporate culture and so my challenges shifted towards the work we were doing to transform the organisation. I am fast coming to the end of my board tenure. My last area of activity is on diversity, on equity, on creating a culture that cultivates meaningful inclusion and belonging for all who work there. I am one of two board members who are Diversity Champions and I am proud to say, we are doing the work.
I have come to realise that I held a lot of notions about being a board member - that I have got to look, sound, behave in a certain way. Actually, all of those things are complete rubbish - there is no one way to be a board member, you have got to bring your whole self to the role. That is the only way that the organisation benefits from the diversity it recruits. And if there is one thing I have learned about being a board member, it is that fellow board members want to hear what you have to say and when you open up to them they are supportive all the way.
I have to say that being a board member has been one of the best work related decisions of my career, because over time, it has strengthened my confidence to speak up, supported the belief that what I have got to say matters and confirmed that I add real value.
My top five takeaways:
- Have faith and trust in your credentials and experience - it is easy to second guess yourself and whether you are adding value to the board - this isn't helpful especially when it stops you from speaking up / asking a question.
- Cliché - there is no such thing as a silly question - ask the question, even if the answer is not obvious to you. Brains are not wired the same way - ask your question and the response might spark new ways of thinking.
- You are appointed to the board for your experience and knowledge - you belong. Full stop.
- When you speak, fellow board members listen. See #3.
- Choose to challenge intelligently - this isn't about scoring points, it is about making a real impact for the organisation.
If you get the opportunity to join a board, do it – as an experience it is life changing.