Deliberate Leaders: Developing Board Members with Naomi Kent

Reading Time: 17 Minutes

Naomi Kent explains how they prepare and position members for board service and career transition.

After the Interview

About Naomi Kent

Naomi Kent is the President of In Touch Networks North American operations, and has worked with boards of directors for over 20 years. She is passionate about inspiring the next generation of board members to consider this career path, and has worked with both experienced and first time board members advising them on their journey.

Read the Transcript

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview.

0:06 

Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I’m your host, Allison Dunn, Founder of Deliberate Leaders where our mission is to help leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode, we feature inspiring interviews to help you on your leadership journey. And it gives me great pleasure to introduce Naomi Kent. She is here with us from In Touch networks. She is the President of their North American operation, and has worked with boards of directors for over 20 years. She is passionate about inspiring the next generation of board members to consider this career path, and has worked with both experienced and first time board members advising them on their journey. Naomi, thank you so much for joining us here today.

0:49 

Thank you, Allison. Thanks for having me.

0:52 

Absolutely. I always kick these off with a quick, deliberate conversation. What would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners?

1:04 

Yeah, so I think we talk to our members a lot about leadership and about different styles. And I think one of the main ones for me is authenticity. And I think that carries through the entire sort of tenure of of a leaders role. And it’s really important to be consistent, and be authentic with the people around you.

1:28 

Fantastic, I completely agree. I am in my introduction, I really didn’t give a sense of what In Touch networks does. And so could you give us a high level overview because it is the topic we’re talking about today? So if you could share a little bit, an intro with us?

1:45 

Absolutely, yeah, we’re a global network. And we prepare and position our members for board service. And also prepare and position them for career transition. Generally, our members are looking for corporate boards, or they may be at the latter part of their careers. So they may be looking to pivot or transition into a consultant role, or perhaps into being a coach. And so we support all of our services support them throughout this time. And our services include resume writing, and bio writing. So you can get a board bio or a board resume, you can also get an executive resume, you can get a coach profile if you’re becoming a coach. And then also we do LinkedIn profiles, because we know how important brand is and brand image, and then right through to coaching, courses, learning and development, and also certifications as well. So in addition to that wrapped up with all of that is the networking that people can do. So it’s very much peer to peer networking. And it provides senior executives and retired executives with the right group of people in order to transition effectively.

3:07 

Fantastic, and how many how many members do you currently have?

3:11 

So we have about 40,000 members worldwide. They are mainly in the United States and in Europe. But we also have a lot of our members travel and have multiple homes around the world. So we do have a number of members in the Middle East and also in Asia and Australia.

3:31 

Fantastic. That’s, that is rather significant. Very cool. And what would be your best advice for someone who’s thinking about being a board member for the first time?

3:44 

Yeah, so there’s, there’s a lot of different things to consider when you’re thinking about board service. The first is really think about, you know, do you have the time, time is critically important. If you’re a very busy executive, and you want to start a board career, you do need to carve out a little bit of time, it’s not going to be an additional job or anything like that. But it does require some level of engagement. The second thing that you want to consider is, you know, is this something you want to pursue? So one of the first things that I recommend people do is to learn about board service, find out what it takes to be an effective board member? And what is the role of the board member? And I mean, we’re talking a little bit here about corporate board service, but for many of those people out there, and I’m sure a lot of people listening to your podcast, the one of the main things will be thinking, where do I start, like what kind of board Do I need to start on, and that could be a nonprofit board, that could be an industry association, or it could be a startup or a supervisor, a strategic advisory board. So there are plenty of options for people it’s really about knowing which way you want to go. And then I think once you learn more about what it takes to be an effective board member That’s when you’ll find out more about yourself and where you fit into the mix and what your qualities are that make you an effective board member. And then finally, I think it’s really about understanding and knowing that it is a transition, that being an executive in a company or a consultant to a business is very different from being a board member. And Allison, I know you’re in a few boards, and I’m sure you can attest to the fact that it’s a different skill set.

5:29 

So let’s dive into a little bit. I think that’s a very important point to make. So can you expand on that?

5:36 

Yeah, absolutely. So the role of the board member is really an advisory role. One of the, one of the there’s, there’s corporate governance codes and codes of conduct that exists across boards. So duty of care, duty of obedience, you know, these are all what board members should follow while they are on the board. So it’s really important to read up on those. So make sure you understand what’s as a board member, what you’re expected to achieve and what you’re expected to do. And in addition to that, it’s about being visionary. So some of the skills that we see across board members, and especially board members across portfolio of boards, is that they’re able to see the big picture. And they also understand the industry, and they read up on what’s going on in the industry, so that they really have a good view for what’s happening in the future. And what’s ahead. I think most CEOs will attest that, you know, they would like to grow the business, they would like to avoid risk. And you know, these are things that the board members should be looking out for. And, you know, how can we save money? How can we, you know, get to the end of the year, with more clients and not spending as much but still being the best company that we can be. And so, as a board member, I think it’s really important to understand that there’s a difference between the executives role and the board’s role. And that it’s and there’s a saying in in, in the space, which is nose in, hands out, or nose in fingers out, you may have heard of one of those two, which really means get involved, understand what’s going on, be nosy, ask the questions. But you don’t necessarily need to be the doula. So you leave that up to the executive team to take the projects forward.

7:33 

Fantastic. Would you agree that joining a corporate board is a major career transition?

7:40 

It is a major transition. And for a lot of people, it starts with just the pitch. So you know, if I meet you, and you have a board role versus an executive role, I would change my pitch about myself. So as an executive, I would introduce myself talk about my executive career and what I’ve achieved. But if I were talking to you about a potential board role, I would talk about my achievements, but I would use them in a way that would relate to somebody that wants an advisor onto the board. So I would use different terminology, board terminology. And I would also describe different aspects of my qualities. For a lot of boards, they’re looking for people with relationships. So if I were pitching myself as a board member, I might talk about where my relationships are, or where I might be able to leverage specific people to help grow the business, or to source information and advice. So it’s a quite a large transition. We do board resumes, and people frequently asked, Well, why do I need a board resume to apply for a board? Well, it’s exactly that it’s the pitch is different. So a board resume is less of a chronology of everything that you have done in the past. And more around what are your current skills, and an expertise that you bring at the board level. And that is really listed out very, very clearly for people to be able to read quickly. Usually, it’s a one page document. So it’s not as long as a resume. And it’s, I call it a board profile, right? It’s your profile as a board member. So that that’s a big change. That’s a big transition. So the pitch, the paperwork, and also how you approach forms. You know, it’s a little bit more of a formal group of people. It’s a formal environment. Why because it’s run by the CEO. And it’s very high level. I mean, if you think your CEO is running the business, think again, right, the board of directors are the ones so really, this is that the highest level of authority in the company. So really, it’s taken very seriously it is formal, you do need to go and in some cases apply through specific channels, and also a lot of it is relationship based. Why? Because it’s around trust. So you know, somebody that you know very well that you trust that you know, hasn’t been in companies that have been bankrupt 100, that means a lot for a board of directors, right? It doesn’t mean as much if you’re hiring a VP, maybe they even had a company they own 60 years ago that went bankrupt. Generally, it wouldn’t really matter, right. But it does matter. at the board level, that integrity is so important. And also going back the authenticity, right, the authenticity of the board of directors, and for each of the individuals is important. So people need to be able to trust you. So in a nutshell, I would say it’s really your pitch, it’s who you are, and how you present yourself, your resume and all the paperwork that you have. And then the approach as well, it can be very different.

10:54 

What are some of the ways that a person can prepare to serve on a corporate board or even to be in a position to try to go after the board position?

11:06 

And I think apart from everything, what we’ve talked about with, you know, the resume and getting the pitch and everything else, I think one of the main ones that people frequently look, cast is the network. And I would guarantee that a lot of the people that are listening to your podcast right now have board directors in their contact list, you know, any kind of border might be a startup board might be a smaller company, it might not be, you know, the IBM board or a fortune 100. Board, but, but you do have a board director in your network, and it’s well worth talking to them, asking them about their journey, asking them about what they enjoy about being on a board, and really trying to understand what the channel or the correct channel may be for you, if you’re looking to get on a board. And if this is the first time, I do strongly recommend some of the pro bono options. So for example, that might be an industry association, like the AMA, the American Marketing Association, or it could be a local organization that does some work in the community. It could be a charity, it could be a network, it could be a professional network, where you sit on the board. And any of these will provide you with the with some experience, first of all, and we’ll also give you a sort of a view into what the role of the board member is. So I would say, you know, really start to think about Okay, how can I get into this quickly and easily? And then who’s in my network that can help me get there? That that’s a very good next step.

12:46 

Fantastic. What would you say boards are looking for when, they’re looking for work, especially in these times? What would net board members be looking for?

12:56 

Yeah, so we, we’ve seen in the last year, because we work with businesses that are looking for board members, they’re actually able to recruit from our network for free. So we know what the requirements are. And we have seen a lot of businesses actually come with very different requirements in the last year. digital transformation has been a major topic for all companies or businesses, even to for employees, right. And I think that board members that can keep up with this digital transformation have been left behind, and new board members have arrived on the board, who may have more of an appreciation for some of the digital transformation that is taking place, and maybe be more visionary in how businesses can evolve even more. I would also say that another area is environmental, social and governance, which is e s, G. So ESG is I think it was always been a hot topic. But in the last year, consumers and employees have really demanded that they hear from their businesses around the ESG topic, and what they feel is the right way forward. I think that you don’t have to be an ESG expert in any shape or form. You don’t have to go out and do a course or anything like that. But you do need to understand from the businesses perspective, how these three areas as a board member, how these three areas can improve and challenge the company in the future. And so really, really important to understand all the different aspects of ESG and which ones apply most of the boards that you’re on. And then the third one, if I were to pick three, I’d say the third one is really looking at human capital and human capital. Whether it’s your existing employees, the employees you want to hire, the teams that you have the people that you have globally, who you outsource, and consultants and everybody you use, I think that’s going to be critical, critical element of businesses this year and next year. And I think that, again, board members, it’s been a topic of conversation at the board level, but it’s never had a front seat, and it had a front seat last year, mainly because people were dispersed and displaced, and there was a lot going on mental health issues were creating, you know, a lot of difficulties within businesses. And it wasn’t just at the employee level, it was actually at the executive team level, too. And that was really trickling down to the business and the board frequently would have to step in. And so so, you know, with a lot of this, that’s, that’s going on, board members have had to say, okay, it’s not just about revenue, and profits, and, and, you know, yields and everything else that we need to get in, we need to be thinking too about the people that actually run this, these businesses. So, so I would say those, those three are big, but you know, we’re also seeing qualities in people like being able to, you know, deal with a crisis, right? I mean, there were crisis after crisis last year, whether it’s a PR crisis, or an internal crisis, or an external political, environmental, economical, whichever. So people who are able to deal with that, I think, have had a much, much easier ride last year than those who have not.

16:40 

In your experience, what is a typical term of service for someone serving on a corporate board?

16:50 

So corporate boards, some businesses, I would say, if you look into the publicly traded companies, they do, some of them do have term limits, I think it’s around a can be around eight to 10 years, I’ve read that the optimal time being on a board is around four to six. So that kind of makes sense that fits in with that fits in line. term limits, though, are not always instituted. And for a couple of reasons. One is sometimes there is somebody who is extremely valuable to the business, and may have been there for a little longer than usual. And that’s perfectly normal and usually voted right, the board will vote to keep that person on. But you know that there’s also a lot of talk around, why hasn’t there been a lot of movement on boards? Why are women not in the number of women not increasing on boards, and a lot of it does come down to movement and availability of board seats. And if you think that a board can somebody can stay on a board for 1020 years, it doesn’t leave much opportunity for new people to join. So So in some cases, I do understand that the term limit doesn’t matter. And that individual needs to stay. But I think in some cases, and it was definitely the case last year, a lot of people were, and even some of them even rolled off. They walked off the board and said, You know, this isn’t necessarily for me, I don’t feel like this is something that I can contribute, as well as perhaps someone else. So term limits exist, but they’re not always enforced, let’s say.

18:30 

If someone is considering creating a corporate board, as an advisory type group, what is what in your opinion would be the right size? Or is size the size not matter?

18:42 

So I again, go back to my original sort of advice, which is about time, you know, how much time do you have, and corporate boards, I think there’s a lot of misconception that it’s this, you go to a meeting every quarter, and you kind of just show up, you give your advice, and you walk away. And there’s a lot of work that is done during meetings, sorry, in between meetings, that that people don’t talk about, you know, notes for the board meeting will arrive, hopefully a week or two before the meeting, that could take you a full day, if not two days to review. And also to start asking questions to research things because you want to come if you don’t agree with something, you have to research it and make sure you have the right argument and the right plan together to bring to the board. So there’s that there’s a lot that’s involved. And also, if you’re joining a corporate board for the first time, your first year is going to be very intense. First of all, you’re learning everything for the first time you’re seeing everything for the first time, there’ll be people referring to things that you’re not aware of. I mean, you know, you’re really it’s learning curve, it’s going to be very, very sharp. So the first year is going to be intense. So I would always take that into consideration, year two, three and four. And it just, it will start to get easier in terms of your understand you’d have been through a whole cycle of a year. So it will get easier. But yes, I think for the first board, you really should get onto that first board and see how much time is required to be effective on that board, and then decide if you’d like to go and do be on another board. I am on a couple of nonprofit boards, or do you know, and pro bono boards, let’s call them an industry association, and also an advisory board. And then there’s another board that I’m a part of another advisory board, which does take up a little bit more time. So really, it’s about looking at your time, how much time you have during the day and during the week, and deciding Okay, what can I dedicate? But to give you some idea of what that might look like, I would say if you’re a senior level executive, one corporate board would be a lot. Two corporate boards might be a lot as well. Three, it’s you’re really getting into now you’re doing more board work than you’re doing executive work. So I would say one to two, would it be okay to take on as a current, you know, very busy executive. And then if you’re retired, it’s very different. You can take on multiple boards, you can be a consultant and on a board and do other things. So there’s a little bit more flexibility there.

21:30 

What would you say? So I would imagine that a lot of people may not feel that they’re quite qualified or experienced enough to do board service, what are some of the minimum qualifications that people should consider? Like now would be a good time to start thinking about it? Because I think people probably under qualify themselves?

21:52 

Hmm. Yeah, I think I think you’re absolutely right. I think a lot of people talk themselves out of a board seat versus into a board seat. I think a lot of that will be due to the fact that they are not familiar with the space. So my advice to anyone feeling like they’re not ready yet, or they just don’t, you know, they’re there. They’re afraid of the next step is really just a research start researching board directors, what’s the role? What’s required? Once you start to read up on it, you’ll start seeing Oh, actually, this this is me is these are the skills and the qualities that I already have, I would actually probably fit in quite nicely. So do some research, talk to some friends again, you know, talk to people, you know, who sit on boards, you know, they will be the best people to tell you that in you know, everything that goes on the board. What do you like most about what are the challenges about being on a board, you know, be just hear it from someone who is already on a corporate board. And then if you’re really unsure about a corporate board, then I would go back to saying, go for an industry board, go for an industry association, or a nonprofit, and, or a charity and think about maybe starting small, getting some experience getting some confidence, and then jumping out into the corporate space a little later.

23:10 

That’s fantastic. Excellent advice. Naomi, I just want to make sure that our listeners understand that, that you actually have a network of members who are eagerly searching for an opportunity to serve, correct? That’s correct. Yeah.

23:28 

So all of our members have been through training and certifications in order to understand the requirements and the effective, you know, requirements of an effective board member. So they have all been through, you know, some kind of training to understand that. And then there’s a very large majority of them who already sit on boards. So they’re on corporate boards, they might be corporate boards of small, medium, large, public, private companies. It’s a mix. Yes, so they work with us because they want to get the latest information about, you know, corporate governance, or cybersecurity, or whichever topic it is that they want to learn more about. But they also come to us because we partner with some of the best organizations in the country who are looking for not just board directors, but also consultants, advisors, and even interim directors. So a lot of our a lot of our members are retiring or will retire in the next 10 to 15 years. So for some of them who are retired, they may jump a lot of them jump back in into an interim role. You know, Interim CFO for six months, they’re like no problem, you know, get back in the game. So for a lot of them, that’s fun, and that’s something they want to do. It’s very easy, and it’s free, if you want to advertise your board role, and this is another reason why I’m in touch was founded. We understand that it’s very tough for any business small, medium or large to find the right talent when it comes to board level board level executives and board members. So and we know that it can be very costly to when you go to some of the search firms to seek out those individuals. So if you don’t have the networks, or you don’t know the people, it can be quite tough. And you can end up choosing somebody that you know, choosing a friend, which may or may not work out, as we’ve all seen that happen before on boards. So coming to us, you get an independent director, somebody who is independent from all your friends and family and your other board members, and somebody who could be a subject matter expert SME, so a subject matter expert is somebody who is really goes deep into a particular topic, industry, area business area, and can really guide you and your business on the way forward. And, you know, some founders are geniuses at what they do. And maybe they’re starting a business for the first time, they’ve never grown a business before. All they do is they partner with our members, and our members advise them on how to build their businesses. And together, they’re really able to make it make an enormous impact. So we’ve seen, we’ve seen businesses grow and evolve very quickly as a result of having the right advisory group on standby.

26:19 

That’s fantastic. I feel like this particular topic is very synergistic to what we do inside of our firm at Deliberate Directions. And in our Whetstone programs. It really is attracted people who are growing businesses who aren’t big enough to have their own formal corporate board, but still are seeking that advisory opportunity to get the input from other subject matter experts and other local leaders. But also they want to be able to give advice in you know, support other businesses as they’re growing, too. So I think it’s super cool synergistic way for people to be able to fingerboard service, Naomi, what is the what is the best way for people who might be looking for to get access to the network of folks who want to serve? And where would they go?

27:15  

Sure. So they can go to our website, it’s intouchnetworks.com. And on there, they can put in their information and will contact us. They’re looking for board members, or whether they’re looking to become a board member. They can just go straight there.

27:33 

Fantastic. Naomi, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate you and I will have that in touch networks. link directly at the bottom of this podcast.

27:44 

Thank you. Wonderful. Thanks very much, Allison. Thanks for having me. Thank you.

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