10 Lessons From a Young Female Board Member

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Your seat at the table.

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Eight years ago, Lisa Cook joined her first board. She’s sat among the heads of charitable foundations, not-for-profits, for-profits, sporting clubs and family-owned businesses.

With so much noise and hype generated on the topic of gender equality in the workplace (from both sides), it can be so easy to feel intimidated before you even step foot in the boardroom.

Here, Lisa shares what she’s learnt to help you feel empowered and ready to kick ass.

1. I’m no less capable than my male counterparts
In my exposure to various boards filled mainly with older men, I have learned time and again that I can do the job of a company director as well as, and often better than, my male director counterparts. Not that I ever thought I couldn’t, just quietly.

2. Men have no idea what they’re meant to be doing either
On volunteer boards, you are more likely to have directors around the table who have never been on a board before. Just because you understand your role as a company director doesn’t necessarily mean you understand what to do on a board. If you feel that you can’t sit on a board because you’re not quite sure what you’re meant to do, don’t worry. As long as you strive to learn and grow, you’ll be miles ahead of the others.

3. Board members are people too
It’s easy to get caught up in the governance processes, compliance requirements, and risk avoidance on a board. Amongst all of this, your fellow directors can become objects in your mind. In stressful situations, this can lead to impersonal and destructive behaviours. These are bad for relationships and impact performance. Always remember that board members are people too and treat them appropriately.

4. You have to understand teamwork
The board is a team. All the things that make high-performance teams in the business world apply in the boardroom too. It’s the board’s responsibility to proactively work together to become a highly functioning team.

5. You are responsible for your learning and development
Understanding what your role, duties and responsibilities are as a director is up to you to learn and execute. Furthermore, continued learning and development is required to fit in with an ever-changing governance and business landscape.

6. The difference between good and great directors is self-awareness
When you’re self-aware, you’re more likely to see how effective your interpersonal relationships are, how you can motivate and influence others, where your strengths reside and where you still need to develop. Easy strategies like meditating can help develop your self-awareness. Check out this Harvard Business Review article for further guidance.

7. You can’t attach yourself to the ‘Director’ title
Your ego cannot control your motivation for joining a board. And once you join a board, the title shouldn’t keep you there. Your sense of identity and self-worth should come from within. Depending on how you were appointed or elected, your board position can be pulled out from underneath you when you least expect it.

8. Your reputation is sacred
Acting ethically, having integrity, and having good intentions are mandatory traits of a company director. Manage your reputation through your actions: what you choose to accept on a board, how you’re treated, and how you treat others. All that’s left at the end of the day is your reputation – will yours help or hinder you?

9. You will get incredibly frustrated
A board is made up of people, and people are emotional, freethinking beings. This leads to conflict, differences of opinion, personality clashes, and stalled decisions. Frustration is an inevitable emotion, which is why resilience is one of the most important lessons in my Boardroom Bootcamp courses.

10. You will have to make hard and uncomfortable decisions
Being on a board is not glamorous. There will be many times when you need to make really tough decisions that impact people’s livelihood. That will weigh heavy on your mind. You need to understand that it’s part of the director life and ask yourself if you’re ready to take on that responsibility.

Read More: One Thing That Can Help You Through A Business Relationship Dip

About Lisa Cook

Lisa Cook is the Founder and Managing Director of Get on Board Australia, which delivers education and development courses that are open to new and aspiring company directors from all professional backgrounds and all types of industries (public, private, NFP, sporting organisations and clubs, etc.). Get on Board delivers the Boardroom Bootcamp course: a 12-week online program leading to a Certificate in Board Readiness.

Lisa sits on the board of a number of organisations in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in Adelaide and Sydney. Lisa holds a degree from Charles Sturt University in business management and marketing, and has completed the Foundations of Directorship program through AICD.

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