3 Avoidable Reasons You Are Failing to Get on Boards



Trusted to serve
by Tamara Paton in How to get on board, Motivation
reasons you are failing

I’m thrilled to report that the Boardroom Blueprint online program is well underway. The participants are engaged and committed to building their careers. If this group is any indication, our boardrooms are about to become even more lively and dynamic.

After registration for the program closed, I heard from a number of you. Some thanked me for my free training series and shared insights that they derived from the videos. Others expressed interest in joining the next class when registration opens this fall. I’m so grateful to know that my work supported and sparked their drive to board service.

Several readers also expressed frustration over their inability to find desirable board roles. They asked me to review their resumés to identify what they were missing. Should they enrol in a director training program? Should they hire someone to rewrite their LinkedIn profile?

The bravest looked at those serving on boards and asked, “What do they have that I don’t?”

In my experience, there is a better question to ask: “What do they do that I don’t?”

If only it were as simple as polishing our LinkedIn profiles. Instead, it’s a matter of taking the right action and exhibiting the right behaviours. We must understand the process, respect it and commit.

If your board career lags your expectations, there is a good chance that you – or more specifically, your actions and mindset – are the problem. If you’ll forgive a little tough love, consider whether the following missteps are true for you.

You Are Rushing Through the Process

On a nearly daily basis, bright leaders ask me to introduce them to a plum board assignment. Occasionally, they identify a specific board that represents a dream opportunity. More often, they seek what I call ABAB (A Board…Any Board).

Unfortunately, I can’t help these individuals, at least not right away. Before I can facilitate an introduction, we both need to be clear about the candidate’s board readiness and his offer. And I need to be confident that this insight will come across clearly in a CV, LinkedIn profile, and interview. Otherwise, the introduction will waste everyone’s time.

If you are rushing through or skipping key steps, you are making things unnecessarily hard. Instead, get clear on your board readiness. Articulate your unique value proposition. Identify boards that are likely to find this offer compelling. I hope you’ll do all of these things before you apply to another board or pursue an introduction.

You Give Up Too Easily

Admittedly, those who understand and respect the process can find it daunting. They start strong, find themselves disappointed or distracted, and then ratchet back the time dedicated to their board careers.

There is nothing wrong with pursuing other priorities, but doing so won’t get you on boards. I have lost track of the number of times I’ve been rejected by the gatekeepers. At first glance, my history serving on six boards looks like success. What you don’t see, however, are the dozens of times my candidacy fell painfully short. Dozens of times!

I’m not asking you to hit your head against the wall without asking for a break. If your board aspirations remain unfulfilled, it’s wise to ask why. Trusted mentors and directors in your network may have suggestions. But they will probably encourage you to stick with it, invest more energy, and stay positive.

You Have Unrealistic Expectations

I recently spoke with a director who sits on the board of a small corporation. She wanted to accelerate her progress and build a portfolio of board appointments. And she didn’t understand why it was taking so long.

Midway through our conversation, I realized the issue. She was comparing herself to others and at the wrong point in time. Of course she would feel frustrated if she wanted a full portfolio of board roles. After just two years into this work, she couldn’t realistically expect to be further along. Fortunately, this director has so much going for her. I’m 100% confident that she only needs to remain tenacious and allow the passage of time to produce results.

Wherever you are in your career progression, countless leaders would love to be in your shoes. It’s easy to lose sight of that as we progress towards the next milestone. If you are feeling frustrated, ask a trusted colleague if you are actually right where you are supposed to be.


If none of the above is true for you and you remain frustrated, then you have some work ahead. Perhaps your board offer isn’t as clear as you think it is. Or you could benefit from P&L experience and greater focus on building your network. A frank conversation with a mentor or coach may provide the clarity you need to stop spinning your wheels. This reflection can be uncomfortable, but facing it may be all that stands between you and the opportunities you seek.

Question: When you last took a hard look at a situation, what progress followed? What other techniques have helped you slingshot your career forward?




3 Avoidable Reasons You Are Failing to Get on Boards

by Tamara time to read: 3 min