What's in it for me?
Ups and downs of Board service
Before you join a Board, it is important that you are aware of what you
are signing up for. Most experienced Board members will tell you that
the personal benefits and rewards will definitely outweigh the
sacrifices – at least, they will most of the time. But there will no
doubt be some frustrations along the way.
The purpose of this Help Sheet is not to put you off Board service, but
rather to ensure you go into it with your eyes opened to the realities
as widely as possible.
Making a difference
There can be few more satisfying experiences than being able to see
your goals and vision – and those of your Board and the community it
serves – come to fruition. Contributing to the achievement of something
you really believe in brings a form of satisfaction that is unlikely to
be equaled in other arenas.
Joining a Board offers an opportunity not just to influence decisions,
but to make them (in consultation with other Board members, of course).
In such a way, Board members can have real power over the way public
organisations, property, facilities, programs and projects are managed
and the directions in which they are taken.
Gaining new knowledge
Becoming involved in Government Boards can help you to gain a keener
appreciation of how the public sector operates, as well as current
governance standards and issues. This is knowledge that can often be put
to good use in other aspects of your personal and professional life.
Gaining new skills
Successfully negotiating the challenges and responsibilities of
Government Board service – overseeing finances, fulfilling legal
responsibilities and reporting to the Government, to name just a few –
can lead to a whole new set of very useful skills, which will most
likely be of use in other areas of your life. Meeting and working
alongside other talented Board members can also lead to a valuable
expansion of skills.
Expanding your networks
Making connections through the development of relationships and
friendships with other Board members can have long-lasting and highly
positive personal and professional implications.
Getting to know your own worth
In the day-to-day grind of your work and personal life, it may be easy
to lose sight of what skills and expertise you actually have to offer
the world. Joining a Government Board and contributing to its success
can lead to a more finely tuned understanding of your own worth – and a
realisation that what you have to say is just as important as the
contributions from anyone else.
Finding it's not just about the bottom line
Many Government and other not-for-profit Board members find their
service unleashes a passion and a commitment that is unlikely to be
found among the search for shareholder returns in a company Boardroom.
The motivation to achieve a mission on behalf of the community at large
can be very stimulating.
Most people know the buzz that can come from being part of an effective
team. Working with like-minded, dedicated people, who are all working
towards the same goal, is another experience opened up to Government
Board members. That passion, commitment and spirit of generosity can be
difficult to find in other arenas.
Meeting new people
Whether you are working to provide advice to the Government, to oversee
a professional body or to manage a community asset, serving on a Board
can put you in contact with people you may not have otherwise
encountered. Getting to know your Board's stakeholders can help you to
gain a range of new insights and perspectives that can be useful not
just for your work with this Board, but in other areas of your life.
No matter how great or inspiring your Board is, there are bound to be
some hiccups along the way. Some are more applicable to women than men
and these are dealt with in the Survival Skills for Women on Boards
sheet. Below we have outlined some of the general challenges that all
Board members may encounter at some stage during their term.
Running against the clock
Many Government Board members are volunteers squeezing their Board
duties in between myriad other work and family commitments. Coping with
time constraints – both your own and those of people you are relying on
to help get the job done – can present a real challenge for Board
Government and other not-for-profit Board members are usually motivated
by a sense of altruism, a desire to contribute to the public good and a
belief in the Board's mission – motivations that are often quite
different to those of members serving on commercial Boards. However,
when profits are not the last word in success, it can be difficult to
measure exactly how your Board is performing – and this can be
frustrating or confusing for some Board members. Of course, even in the
absence of profit-making as a motivation, Board members must still keep
a close eye on turnover, budgets and risk-management, and this can be a
challenge in itself.
Another one bites the dust
In many Government and other not-for-profit Boards, membership is in a
constant state of flux. While some change in composition is healthy for
a Board, having to regularly organise replacements, update new members
and adapt to a constantly changing Board culture can be frustrating.
Lack of motivation
To be effective, Board members must operate as a team. While keeping
yourself motivated and focused can sometimes be a challenge, there can
be even greater challenges in having to cope with an occasional lack of
motivation among colleagues.
Let's get serious
Some Government Board members can mistakenly equate limited or no pay
with minimal responsibility, leading to hesitancy in making decisions
that will affect the long-term future of the organisation or facility
they are overseeing. Many struggle to resist the urge to be too soft or
optimistic, when a hard-nosed, reality-based decision is actually what
is required. This can impede the effectiveness of the Board and can be
frustrating for its members.
Boards are composed of people and people have personalities – some of
them challenging. The sometimes frustrating realities of human
interaction do not stop when you enter a Board meeting; indeed, they are
often amplified by it.
The road ahead
Just because you're headed to the same place as your Board colleagues
doesn't mean you will all agree about how to get there. Conflicting
views are inevitable.
Meetings are meant to be inspiring, orderly and efficient, but the
opposite is also sometimes true. Long-winded, circular or irrelevant
discussions should never be on the agenda but nonetheless can creep into
Board meetings at times.
Click here for more help sheets for women.
Click here for a list of general Boards, Committees & Governance help sheets.