Essential Qualities of Exceptional Board Members: A Reflection

I have had the pleasure of serving on the boards of multiple organizations such as the global Board of Directors for Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Guidant Financial, DOXA Talent and more. I’ve done some good work and made countless mistakes. But more importantly, I’ve had a chance to learn from great Board members whose contributions have significantly influenced an organization. Here are my observations, reshaped into ten essential qualities that truly remarkable directors possess:

1. Art of Enquiry: Exceptional board members ask questions driven by genuine curiosity (not just “leading the witness”), inviting the board to reassess the status quo and explore new perspectives.

2. Visionary Lens: Outstanding directors are trend spotters and risk forecasters. They can foresee opportunities and pitfalls ahead, sometimes even before the executive team.

3. Big Picture Advocates: While understanding the business’s current landscape is important, influential directors always keep their eyes fixed on the long-term strategy, inspiring the team to think bigger and bolder.

4. Customer Empathizers: To truly represent the company, a remarkable board member embraces the customer’s perspective, using the products and following the company’s social presence, ensuring they are in touch with customer sentiment.

5. Strategic Overseers: Striking the balance between oversight and overreach is a mark of effective board members. They resist the impulse to give commands or try to drive day-to-day execution.

6. Brand Ambassadors: Effective board members not only represent the company but actively network and recruit, drawing other talented individuals into the company’s sphere.

7. Committed Participants: The best directors go beyond quarterly board meetings and engage with the company regularly, showing up when their presence is critical. They do not hesitate to dig in as the organization needs.

8. CEO Supporters: A great board member invests in more than just the company – they, in particular the Chairperson, provide strategic guidance and invest time in the CEO.

9. Thought Provocateurs: Having a board that constantly agrees is a red flag. Magic can happen when someone is willing to take a position to spark a strong debate. Exceptional board members challenge conventional thinking and foster a culture of vibrant discussion and debate.

10. Selective Contributors: Top-tier directors understand the power of their voice. They are selective about their contributions, careful to avoid any unintended impacts on the executive team due to misinterpretations.

For those with a board in place, it’s worth assessing whether your board members embody these qualities. Feedback and continuous evolution are key to ensuring your board remains effective and contributes positively to your organization’s trajectory.

In business, as in life, it’s not just about getting to your destination, but also about enjoying and learning from the journey. A strong, effective board can not only guide your company to success but also enrich your entrepreneurial journey.

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