Opinion: Sack the coach. Make him pay for the dismal performance of the All Blacks on the field. To me as a casual observer of rugby, it seems very Salem-like.

Sure, the coach has a role to play, but so do the players and management but the ultimate accountability for the performance of any organisation sits with its board.

So why isn’t the war cry “sack the chair”?

Based on more than two decades of experience of sitting on boards, or working with them on their performance evaluations, recruitment, and training, I think many of us don’t understand the importance and responsibility of being on a board.

Yet many of us want to be in the boardroom.

If I had a dollar for every person who asked me how to start their governance career, I would be writing this from my tropical summer residence (not cold, wet Wellington).

Perhaps we have been seduced by television where boardrooms have large dark polished wood tables and are hotbeds of power and intrigue and fully stocked drinks cabinets. (Spoiler alert: this hasn’t been my experience.)

Perhaps achieving board roles is the expected natural progression from a successful management career. It’s the done thing. 

Perhaps we think these roles are easy money.

But they aren’t. When you step up into a board role, you take on the accountability for many aspects of that organisation. The buck stops with you and your new board colleagues – to ensure the organisation is solvent, sustainable, effective, legally compliant, and ethical.

You sign off strategy, you hire the chief executive (who hires the team, maybe even hires the head coach), you define what is performance, and you set the culture and values of the organisation.

Governance roles can be incredibly rewarding. With your board colleagues, you are stewarding an organisation, ensuring it delivers effectively now and strengthening it for the future.

Here’s my advice to those looking to step up into governance roles:

Know why you’re doing it

Be clear on your motivation for wanting governance roles. If it is because they look easy and less work than ‘real’ jobs or for the ‘prestige’, think again. There are many ways to lead and influence and make a dollar that do not involve being on boards, so why governance?

Be clear about what you have to offer

I am often approached by people who know what they want from their board roles but have given little thought as to the needs of boards they are applying to. Be clear on why a board would appoint you.

Get focused

Once you are clear about your goals in governance and your value proposition, start a targeted search for boards and roles. You wouldn’t randomly apply for every full-time job online, but you will be surprised how many people randomly apply for board roles.

Too many times on board appointment panels, I see generic cover letters and CVs. This tells me you haven’t taken much time to consider the role.

Getting a foot in the door can be hard, but you are most likely to succeed if you know what you are looking for, what you have to offer and who needs it, and focus your search.

Spray painting your CV around town usually doesn’t work.

Finally, good luck with getting on board. The board rooms of Aotearoa New Zealand always need great directors, including sporting codes with patchy on-field performances.

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