Characteristics of a Competent Board Member | Board Executive Recruiters

      Characteristics of a Competent Board Member

      Your company’s board of directors sets the tone for the entire organization.

      They’ll decide when to bring on new executives and establish specific objectives for various departments to work toward.

      Typically, their experience in prior executive leadership roles gives them the perspective they need to liaise directly with senior leadership while still maintaining their independence from the company.

      Selecting new members for the board typically falls to the chairperson and existing board members. Ideally, a strong board member will possess certain traits that allow an organization to break away from the status quo and realize its full potential.

      Common Board Selection Pitfalls

      Too often, boards select people to join them that have similar traits as exiting members, which can limit a company’s progress toward future objectives. Similarly, they may fail to identify non-executive professionals who can add tremendous value to the organization, despite their lack of senior leadership experience.

      Here are a few selection mistakes commonly made in the board selection process.

      Only Hiring Prior C-Suite Executives

      There are clear benefits to hiring prior executives to sit on the board of directors. A company’s previous CEO or CFO will know the ins and outs of the organization. They’ll have extensive knowledge of the company’s products and services and strong relationships with key management team members.

      Furthermore, a past CEO or CFO can easily set achievable objectives for incoming executives to work toward. Their practical knowledge often helps them understand the roadblocks new leadership may encounter, which board members who don’t have experience in the company’s operations aren’t as likely to grasp.

      While welcoming an exiting CEO or CFO to the board is common, it has consequences that may impact the organization’s future.

      For one, departing executives are often stuck in the past. They may think in terms of previous issues rather than future opportunities. This can make navigating changes in the organization’s landscape challenging.

      For example, a prior CEO or CFO may advise sticking with traditional hiring practices rather than using alternative methods that could broaden their access to top-tier talent. Similarly, they may not realize the importance of protecting the organization from cybersecurity or geopolitical risks.

      Selecting Board Members with Similar Traits

      The departure of a board member is an opportunity to change the company’s direction, but sometimes organizations fail to recognize it as such. They’ve likely grown familiar with the director’s guidance and personal characteristics and want to replace them with someone similar.

      However, choosing someone with the same type of experience over and over again can have severe consequences on the organization.

      Too much homogeneity within the board can limit its effectiveness in the operating environment since new solutions to old problems won’t surface. Instead, the board may fall into the trap of “this is how we’ve always done things.”

      Covertly Seeking Board Members

      Future board members often have no idea they’re under potential consideration. The proliferation of social media tools and general online activity makes it all too easy for board members to uncover the history of their prospective teams without even picking up the phone.

      While knowledge of a board member’s experience and affiliations is helpful, it does remove the actual person from the decision-making process. Rather than interviewing various candidates and learning about them, companies rely on outdated information that may have little bearing on the board member’s ability to perform.

      Traits to Look for in an Effective Board Member

      When seeking a new board member, avoiding common hiring pitfalls is critical. Instead of sticking with outdated selection criteria, think outside the box and look for people with the following attributes.


      A competent board member can see past relationships with executive team members and know when the company needs a change in senior leadership. Removing a CEO or CFO isn’t a simple process. It requires buy-in from other board members and will be a significant organizational change for the employees that support the organization.

      Top executives and board members often enjoy a convivial relationship with one another. However, these relationships can hide significant problems the board needs to address. A solid board member won’t hesitate to recommend executive change when warranted, regardless of positive relationships with the targeted leader.

      Strong Character

      A person with good character can possess a variety of traits, but a few of the most valuable in the boardroom include honesty, reliability, and responsibility.

      It’s all too easy to sweep essential matters under the rug, which can come back to haunt you later. Maintaining honesty, even when other board members are willing to ignore issues, is critical.

      Above all, board members should be reliable and responsible. They set the organization’s vision, and executives are responsible for aligning with it. If they make irresponsible decisions that adversely affect the organization, they must be willing to admit their mistakes and hold themselves accountable.

      When board members possess strong character, there’s less chance of the kind of legal or accounting issues that can tear a company apart. They note problems and seek to address them immediately rather than leaving them to an unknown future date.


      For far too long, males have dominated the landscape of most company boards. Even today, seven percent of global boards consist of male-only leadership. In the U.S., just 10% of Fortune 500 CEO roles are held by women. This underrepresents demographic differences that make up the global world population.

      Hiring board members from diverse backgrounds who reflect varying demographics is critical for organizations whose customer base extends far past the male standard and encompasses women and people of different races and ethnicities. Diverse board members can offer different perspectives that may not cross the minds of their peers.

      Selecting diverse board members can extend past basic demographics into an individual’s experience. Sometimes, hiring people who don’t have a traditional executive leadership background can uncover hidden growth opportunities.

      Hire Board Members According to Company Objectives, Not Past Precedence

      Consider the organization’s goals when looking for your newest board member. Are you seeking to expand into a new market? Are you hoping to attract major investors to fund a new initiative? Are you looking to realign business processes and divest unprofitable product lines?

      Your newest board member shouldn’t be a mirror reflection of prior board choices, and they should stand to add value to the organization as a whole. You’ll see improved company outcomes when you hire for the right characteristics.

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