Crucial qualities of a board director
A common growth constraint for startups is insufficient bandwidth and a lack of resources to tackle the broad spectrum of challenges facing a fast-paced business.
The input from an experienced Advisory Board member can be transformational, providing not just hands-on assistance as required but also working at a strategic level, ensuring the alignment of culture with strategy. For board advisors seeking to join startups, possessing certain core qualities and skills will help them to position themselves as the best possible candidate.
1. Cultural fit
Cultural fit is something that is top of the agenda when hiring employees but can often be overlooked in the search for a board advisor. Founders should look for someone who understands and endorses the purpose of your organization, meshes well with the personalities of themselves and their SLT, and is passionate about their products or services. If your advisor has not bought into your culture, there could major stumbling blocks ahead. Successful startups are built on brilliant cultures, and an advisor will need to be a cog that fits into the bigger machine.
Board advisors have access to privileged and confidential information about the businesses they work with. Founders and leadership teams should have a relationship of complete trust with their advisors and be confident that information is not being shared with outside parties or competitors. Similarly, it’s the duty of an advisor to flag - and if at all possible avoid - any conflicts of interest, which are more likely to occur for advisors due to the nature of holding a portfolio of roles. By creating an atmosphere of trust, board advisors are much more likely to see their advice and opinions valued and actioned by the organizations they work with and may even see their role transitioned to an independent director position as the company grows.
Advisors, much like independent directors, are generally experienced and well-connected professionally. One of the most valuable things an advisor can bring to a startup is a broad network of professionals who may be able to offer consultancy, investment or advisory services themselves. Nothing can beat a personal introduction and the advocacy that comes with it for startups, especially for those who may not have the traditional routes to building connections at their disposal.
4. Proven track record
An advisor should have relevant experience and expertise, and have spent significant time in the trenches of business. A founder should be able to tap into the lessons their advisor has learnt, allowing them to help startups avoid pitfalls and create solutions. First-time founders may be very inexperienced in dealing with critical decision making and strategy, and these are just some of the areas in which board advisors may be required to focus their energies and provide more concentrated support.
Board advisors are very often brought in to tackle a particular issue or area in which the startup lacks resources or knowledge, such as tech or HR. Founders will be looking for individuals with deep industry experience and skill sets, so board advisors would do well to make sure their online presence reflects their specialism. Beyond specific skills-based competencies, early-stage startups will also be looking for advisors with broader skills in strategy, growth and leadership which are transferable skills that rely more on the ability of advisors to transition skills from their executive careers.
Being able to offer an external, objective view on the operations and strategy of a business is something central to the role of a board advisor. Typically, advisors spend only a handful of hours a month working with founders or SLTs and in that time, they must be able to make valuable judgments to inform their advice and guidance. Being removed from the day-to-day of the business allows advisors to see the bigger picture and give honest, objective support.
7. Communication skills
Advisors should be team players and easy communicators, able to understand board and team dynamics, and work to present project findings or strategic advice in a way that will be well received and understood by all. They should have the ability to be active listeners and also effectively transmit their ideas and opinions. Good communications skills allow advisors to obtain the right information and feed back their ideas around this. For founders, advisors can be confidential, impartial sounding boards, encouraging self-reflection and the drive for founders to create their own solutions to issues.