Four Traits of a Great Board Mentor

Ralph Ward March 7, 2018

It is my pleasure to introduce Ralph D. Ward, Publisher & Editor of the Boardroom INSIDER. Ralph’s highly valued boardroom insights is published monthly for directors, CEO’s, Corporate Secretaries, Corporate Counsel and those who work with corporate and nonprofit boards.

Ralph Ward is  is the author of several books, “Boardroom Q&A”, “The New Boardroom Leaders”, “Saving the Corporate Board”, “Improving the Corporate Board” and “21st Century Corporate Board”. Ralph is also a highly sought after speaker related to corporate board issues.

From Ralph Ward’s January 18, 2018 Boardroom INSIDER – 4 Traits of a Great Board Mentor

We’ve written in the past on the value of a mentor in a board wannabe’s campaign to gain a first board seat. But what exactly should you seek from a mentor?  What does a good mentor do — and not do? —

A Good Mentor

Clears up boardroom mysteries.  “The whole process of how people join boards is murky and mysterious,” says Jill Griffin, author of the recent book Earn Your Seat on a Corporate Board.  She was lucky to gain retired U.S. Air Force General Robert Herres as a mentor while he chaired the board of military insurer USAA.  “I leaned on him heavily.”  Griffin, who now serves on the board of Luby’s/Fuddruckers, learned the value of going through the “chain of command” on a board — bringing business first to board committees.  Herres also taught Griffin how boards weigh and value the “fit” of a new prospect, and the need to learn how a particular board gauges this subjective but crucial quality.  A good mentor can not only clarify your uncertainties on how boards function, but tip you to factors you don’t even know enough to ask about.

Clues you in on networking.  “One thing I hear from [board] mentees is that they thought their own networks would prove stronger,” says Melissa Henderson, whose Summit Executive Resources firms helps both board seeking candidates and candidates seeking boards.  “They assume that working their networks to get on a board would convert to results more quickly, but instead they just hear ‘I’ll keep you in mind.’”  Your boardroom mentor should know how much effort, serendipity and chance go into forging the links needed to bring you into a boardroom, and will give you a needed reality check.  “You may start a conversation today and, 8 months later, find yourself on a board.”

Brings fresh experience.  We may think a grey-beard director, who’s served on many boards for years, is the ideal Yoda for guiding your board efforts.  Maybe not.  The “secret society” aspect of tapping good old boys for boards is shifting to a more open, fast-moving, diverse model.  An old-school director may “know the old ways, but not be up to date on what works now,” says Henderson, and may have forgotten just how hard a slog it can be.  The best mentor for younger wannabes is the person just ahead of you in their onboarding efforts, with a few recent board seats, and current “muscle memory” on how to do it.

Has time (and makes time).  “A mentor should be realistic about what they can contribute,” says Henderson.  “There’s a lot of coaching and critiquing involved to help you extract what’s best, and that takes time.”  Related to this is access.  If the best a board mentor can offer is 10 minutes on the phone sometime next week, you need a better mentor.  (BTW, this puts a burden on you to respect your mentor’s time, and use every minute wisely).

For more information regarding Ralph D. Ward and Boardroom INSIDER, please visit —


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