Balancing a career and a board seat? It can and should be done

balance career and a board seat

You can successfully balance an executive career and a board seat, which may be your best career move. 90% of the people I work with want an independent board seat in addition to their busy executive roles. According to the 2022 US Spencer Stuart Board Index,  75% of new directors appointed to an S&P 500 board in 2022 were actively employed. They do so because they recognize the benefits of serving on a board or committee. Getting the right balance between your executive and board careers will allow you to reap the benefits professionally and personally.

Why pursue an executive career and a board seat?

Holding an independent director board role can future-proof your career. Quoting myself, “Those who hold an independent board seat, in addition to an existing executive role: earn more, are promoted more often, have greater job security and are unemployed less”. 

There are several personal and professional benefits of serving on a board or committee:

  1. Professional development: sitting on a board provides invaluable insight into group decision-making dynamics and processes. Every board will be different, and so will their conflicts, issues and relationships. As a group, you must resolve problems and make tough decisions. This may differ significantly from the hierarchical management models experienced in your executive role. You will develop and practice highly transferable soft skills that will make you a better manager.
  2. Strategic experience: as an independent director, you will work strategically and on the same level as senior executives or individuals. These may be fellow board members, stakeholders or external individuals you work with. Working relationships of this nature are usually only experienced by those in the most senior roles of an organization.
  3. Relationships building: serving on boards or even on a local not-for-profit committee provides a unique environment to establish personal and professional relationships with people you would never cross paths with. Strong connections may develop, built on a foundation of mutual respect. These relationships can result in new business, professional opportunities, other board opportunities, friendships or participation in new social activities.
  4. Opportunity to give back: commonly, people tell me they want to join a board to give back to their community. For me, it sounds a little clichéd, but the truth is, for many, it is the underlying reason they serve on boards or committees. Many successful people do not feel fulfilled by their executive roles and achievements. Giving back provides valuable rewards, including improving your well-being and a sense of purpose.
  5. Remuneration: many independent board directors get paid, and for some, this is a key reason for pursuing a board career. Remuneration for independent directors can be substation with the 2022 US Spencer Stuart Board Index finding that: 65% of S&P 500 boards pay a retainer of at least $100,000. The average committee member’s retainer is $11,964. The additional income may be critical during tough economic times, planning a portfolio or consulting career, or during retirement. 
  6. Growing your brand & profile: It is estimated that as little as 5% of the population holds a board seat. Being an independent board director will elevate you into an elite group. For many, this will bolster their professional and social profiles. Just using the title of Board Director can open doors. It can give you access to people and networks you would not otherwise have. This, in turn, can also enhance your professional personal brand.  

When considering the benefits, for many, it is evident that an executive career and an independent director board seat complement each other and should be pursued together. The dilemma is then balancing the commitments of both roles without affecting their performance in either.

Time commitments of an independent board director

Many worry about the time commitments involved in balancing a career and a board seat. Unlike an executive board director, an independent director’s role is not incorporated into their executive role. They need to find the time required on top of their full-time or part-time executive career without negatively impacting their social and family life. 

To mitigate the impact and provide a balance, you must gauge the time requirements placed on independent directors. Generally, you should plan for at least two days a month. This will vary by country, statutory requirements, organization type and unforeseen circumstances (such as a global pandemic). 

More specifically, at a minimum, your time commitment will include the following:

  • Attending board meetings (on average 4-8 scheduled meetings per year)
  • Travel to and from board meetings
  • Preparing for board meetings – reading, researching and proving reports. This task is usually more time-consuming for independent directors as they are not part of the organization’s day-to-day running.
  • Responding to emails and contributing to discussions outside of official board meetings.

Then there are the extra commitments, often not realized until after an appointment. Those include:

  • Requirements or requests to sit on sub-committees
  • Represent the organization at professional and community events
  • Emergency or unscheduled board meetings
  • Dealing with unexpected dilemmas

For some, the time commitment is not nearly as arduous as first thought; it is more than anticipated for others. It may also be worth having a conversation with your current employer. Many recognize the benefits of serving on boards for their employees and the organization. 

Unsure of where to start your search?

First, list the organizations you would like to be appointed to now and in the future. Consider those boards your peers are sitting on, plus those that offer an opportunity to contribute to a cause or industry you are passionate about. If you are balancing an executive career and a board seat, consider organizations that may be less demanding on your time and stress levels. Review your list and work backwards to establish which organizations may be a stepping stone to those longer-term aspirations. 

You will need a Board CV and planned approach to start reaching out to your targets. LinkedIn is the perfect platform to reach out to your targets, find board opportunities, and be found by organizations looking for new board members. Our Board Appointment Coaching Program will take you through the entire process of looking for and gaining a board seat.

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About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments. He has over a decade of experience in putting people on boards as an international headhunter and recruiter. He has interviewed hundreds of directors and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP director roles in the world.

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  1. Some organizations require that all rémunérations earned by executive directors in their organization as independent board director in another organisation should be credited to the organization. They assume that the time spent doing independent board directors work should have been spent on the role as executive. Also that as an executive you are suppose to devote your whole time and skill for your role as an executive director.