Seven Lessons Learned from the Board Room

Seven Lessons Learned from the Boardroom

A not-for-profit dedicated to the financial well-being of well over a million public employees, ICMA-RC is a mission-driven organization. The ICMA-RC Board is one of which I am particularly proud to serve. I have served on the ICMA-RC Board for seven years, chairing the Investment Committee for the last four years and serving on the Nominating Committee as well.

What have I learned?

  1. Succession matters. One of the most important decisions you will need to make at some point is to replace the CEO or President. Be prepared. Discuss succession among the board members. Spend time with the internal candidates, and ask them questions. Ask them what they feel they would need to assume a leadership role. Know what executive recruiter you will use if necessary. Assess the current CEO or President. What other qualities would be useful for the enterprise to succeed? Discuss diversity. Take your time. Don’t make a decision just to make a decision.
  2. Avoid complacency. The competitive landscape is always changing. Study and be thinking about what industry, client and competitor changes may mean to you and the organization you serve. One thing you can depend on – competitors will never stand still. You need to know the company’s value proposition and whether it has the power to stand the test of time. Invite external experts to speak to you and your board members. Engage the leadership team in discussions of what is going well and what keeps them up at night.
  3. Understand the present, but spend most of your time on the future. What will the next year, three years, five years, or even twenty years look like? Understand what the company does. How do the employees feel? What will be the big issues going forward? How will the company attract talent? Who will be your future competitors? What changes are the clients/buyers undergoing that need to be addressed? Challenge the CEO/President/leadership team on what they envision for the future.
  4. Take cybersecurity seriously. Take all risks seriously, but take cybersecurity especially seriously. Your due diligence can make the difference in the company’s reputation. Ask the dumb questions (although there is no such thing as a dumb question). Again, call on experts to help you become more knowledgeable and understand the most likely risks.
  5. Commit to continuing education. Preferably attend educational events with other board members so that you can talk about what you have learned in context of your board and organization. You will discover that you can always learn something new. And you will realize that there are many different solutions to almost any issue. It is amazing what different board members have experienced. Dialogue and ongoing learning are key to capitalizing on others’ experiences.
  6. Think outside of the box. If you are a health company, look at a toy company. If you are an asset management firm, assess a film company. If you are a public entity, look to the private sector. What are they doing that might be useful for your enterprise? Do you have a chief of innovation? When was the last time that management came to the board with an innovative idea, or vice versa? How successfully was that idea implemented?
  7. Align compensation with desired behaviors. The lessons learned from Wells Fargo were sobering. The bank’s revenue goals were unrealistic and ultimately motivated professionals to have sales take precedence over fulfilling client needs. Never take client retention for granted. Be strategic and reward your professionals for keeping clients as much as for attracting them.

The beauty of serving on a board is how much you learn from others who are in management or who also serve on a board. It is joyful work.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

~ Albert Schweitzer

Have you ever served on a board? Any lessons you wish to convey? Please comment below and share this article if you found it helpful. Stay engaged by following us!


Charnley & Røstvold, Inc., a preeminent marketing consulting firm to asset management firms ranging in size from start-up firms to some of the world’s largest investment firms with over $1 trillion under management. Charnley & Røstvold helps clients with competitive positioning, marketing strategies, key messages, presentation refinements, communications and sales training, consultant relations and client service programs.

Jackie Charnley, co-founder of Charnley & Røstvold, Inc., is a popular industry speaker and author. Jackie serves on the ICMA-RC Board, a not-for-profit company serving the financial needs of over one million public employees. She was also a founding board member of PAICR (Professional Association for Investment Communications Resources).

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