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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

WHAT IT REALLY MEANS Being a board member comes with prestige, as it basically means you’re at the top of your field and your guidance and expertise are sought-after.
HOW IT WORKS As a board member, you have to be aware of the environment in which the company’s operating. You don’t have to know the details, but the business strategies and the goals of the company need to be relevant towards improving the company as a whole
To read the full version of this story, go to page 66 of the January-February 2010 issue.

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ALL ABOARD
As a board member, you play an integral part in moving the organisation forward. Here are the top 10 things every board member should know before taking a seat at the boardroom table…
BY SONJA RAATH

According to Fisher Howe, author of Welcome to the Board (Jossey-Bass), not everyone makes a good board member. The best trustees don’t bring their prejudices or their agendas to the boardroom table. Here’s what you need to know:

1. BE A TEAM PLAYER You have to be able to tackle important and often complex problems of public interest. Take an orderly approach to difficulties and decision making processes. Don’t get stuck on winning every issue – rather take everyone’s opinion into account and find a solution that is best for your organisation, even though it may not be best for you.

2. HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR People who take themselves too seriously lack inspiration and stunt development. A serious outlook can be troublesome when the board faces a difficult decision or a complex task. Humour can help keep the peace as well as direct focus.

3. A NON-PROFIT IS NOT A BUSINESS According to Howe: “When a charitable organisation begins to judge itself exclusively by its business practices, it may lose sight of its primary purpose – public service.” Nevertheless, as a board member of either kind of organisation, you need to define precisely what service is needed and whether it is being performed well.

4. LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Leadership empowers any organisation. It is your energy that gets the wheel turning and your enthusiasm that keeps it moving. There is no better way to motivate board members than you leading by example. Enthusiasm is infectious, so use it when explaining things so that it arouses the desire to follow.

5. BE A PERSON OF PRINCIPLE On a board, unethical dealings are out of the question. Any conflict of interest, actual or perceived, is troublesome in deliberations and potentially damaging to the organisation. Stand by good principles.

6. RADIATE ENTHUSIASM Genuine warmth and eagerness are two of the most powerful engines of success. Howe says: “Be active, energetic, enthusiastic and faithful and you will accomplish your objective. Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.”

7. COMMUNICATION AS A SKILL REQUIREMENT
The best way to avoid misunderstandings and potential conflict is to recognise the importance of communication among board members. With communication there comes a level of honesty and trust.

8. PROMOTE DIVERSITY Discrimination is unacceptable in any context. By promoting diversity in the board room, you will honour a culture which enables individuals to reach their full potential despite their age, gender, race, class or physical capabilities. Neutrality is key, where everyone is able, and feels comfortable, to express their own points of view.

9. ATTENDANCE You need to recognise from the outset that that if you choose not to attend meetings, your fitness for membership will be brought into question. All board members should accept that attending board meetings is part of the job and their unconditional participation is part of the responsibility.

10. DEFINE YOUR MISSION It is the function of the board to establish the organisation’s mission and periodically to review, endorse it and support it. According to Howe, you will need to complete a lengthy process of soul-searching and self-assessment, as finding a proper niche for your mission statement may not be as simple as it first appears. By defining your organisation’s mission, you will have a direct line of focus for your future endeavours and not get lost in the chaos of opinion and egotism.