Insights Blog

The 3 questions you should ask yourself when considering your first board appointment

This week I met up for a coffee with a terrific female leader I know with experience in Human Resource Development at several large tech companies.  She asked me a question that I hear time and time again: ‘I’m looking to join a board, what advice do you have?’

So I asked her the same three questions that I’m going to share here with you – the three big questions that you need to think through before seeking your first board appointment.

1.      First, am I ready to be the coach, not the quarterback?

When you want to land your first board seat, it’s essential that you understand the shift in dynamics.  As a board member, you’re no longer the quarterback, you’re the coach!  You’re not there to run the company – that’s the chief executive’s job.  If you try to do that, you’ll undermine the management team and create a completely dysfunctional situation.  You’re not there to run the plays – you’re there to coach, to challenge and to counsel. So if you still want to be that quarterback, calling all the shots, take a long hard look to see if now is the right time for you to join a board.

However, it’s important to remember that, just as the coach can remove the quarterback from a game, so a fiduciary board has the judicious power to remove the CEO from a company.  Which brings me on to my second question …

2.     How much liability do I want?

There are two general paths one can take on business boards, so it’s important to weigh up how much liability you want.

The advisory board is exactly that.  You are giving management advice and counsel.  The management team take all the decisions and you’re not accountable to the owners or other stakeholders for these decisions.

The other path is the fiduciary board.  Here you’re accountable to the owners and other stakeholders for the financial performance, management selection, long-term sustainability, and other legal responsibilities for the company.   You and your fellow fiduciary board members are liable for the company’s performance.

3.      How do I position my strengths?

Finally, it may sound obvious but the best way to get your first board assignment is to play to your strengths.  In most cases, boards are looking to recruit specific expertise that they lack.  So, trying to move away your industry or areas of experience and expertise on your first board assignment is just going to be an uphill battle!  This is the moment to stick to what you know best and showcase the value that you bring to the table.

What are your questions about joining a board?  Please share them in our Comments or email us at

Deanna Oppenheimer is founder of CameoWorks. Recognized globally as one of the most influential leaders in financial services, she’s a turnaround strategist known for her ability to transform entrenched institutions into forward thinking, customer-centric champions. In 2017, Deanna founded BoardReady, a start-up that is using data to drive diversification of governing boards.