The Art of Networking: From Connections to Board Seats

“Networking is the No. 1 unwritten rule of success in business”

— Sallie Krawcheck

The old adage is true – who you know can be as important as what you know. Networking is a powerful tool, especially when aiming to secure a board seat. Research from Harvard, search firms, and executive- and board-related associations reveals that 70 to 90% of board seats are obtained through networking. Learning how to leverage your current connections, while at the same time expanding your circles is a crucial step in ensuring you are in consideration when a board seeks to fill an open seat.

In recent years, the job market has seen a resurgence in the importance of networking. The digital application process, inundated with countless resumes, often fails to capture the unique value of each candidate. As a result, many companies and recruiters are reverting to personal referrals to identify top talent. The Wall Street Journal’s recent article, “Landing a Job Is All About Who You Know (Again),”pointed out that a tech recruiter had nearly a thousand applicants, yet the successful candidate was one of six recommended by a mutual acquaintance. Now, imagine a board meeting convened to discuss potential candidates. The selection process will be even more personal.

I recently read David Brooks’ “How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen,” and was struck by his insights into how we interact with one another. One quote in particular resonated with me:

“The real act of, say, building a friendship or creating a community involves performing a series of small, concrete social actions well: disagreeing without poisoning the relationship; revealing vulnerability at the appropriate pace; being a good listener; knowing how to end a conversation gracefully; knowing how to ask for and offer forgiveness; knowing how to let someone down without breaking their heart; knowing how to sit with someone who is suffering; knowing how to host a gathering where everyone feels embraced; knowing how to see things from another’s point of view.”

The same qualities are essential for a functional and successful board. You need good listeners who can disagree while still appreciating a different perspective. By engaging with individuals from diverse backgrounds and fostering inclusive connections that transcend personal agendas, you can provide proof that you are a strong board candidate.

Expand Your Network

Networking can present inherent challenges. Relying too heavily on existing connections can inadvertently limit your opportunities. To address this, consciously seek out and engage with diverse perspectives. By embracing inclusivity within our networks, we not only enrich our understanding and connections but also create opportunities for mutual growth and support.

Strategically Cultivate Connections

Securing a board seat requires a deliberate and proactive approach to networking. Reach out to colleagues, mentors, and industry peers for introductions or endorsements. Connect with people beyond your current network by attending industry conferences, seminars, and networking events. Grow your LinkedIn network by engaging with other thought leaders; comment on their posts, pose questions, and establish an ongoing conversation.

Build a Robust Network

Joining professional associations and industry groups is a pivotal strategy for aspiring board members. These organizations curate events, workshops, and forums that facilitate meaningful interactions with industry leaders and prospective board colleagues. Active participation in these groups amplifies your visibility and bolsters your credibility, further positioning you as a thought leader within your field.

Seeking mentorship and guidance from those with more board experience can provide invaluable insights. Mentors can offer advice on navigating board dynamics and make introductions to their networks. This support can be instrumental in advancing your board ambitions, providing a clearer path toward achieving your goals.

Showcase Your Unique Value

You need to position yourself properly even before you are actively being considered for a board seat. Showcase what you alone bring to the table. What sets you apart from other potential candidates? What problems do you solve? Articulate your expertise, leadership skills, and perspectives. Discuss how your background and experience align with a board’s needs and goals. Be consistent in how you communicate these ideas to your growing network in person and in online posts and articles. Remember, you are laying the groundwork for your board candidacy.

Build Relationships, Not Just Contacts

Networking done properly is a win-win scenario. Leveraging existing relationships and creating new ones will increase your chances of successfully securing a board seat. Equally important is what you do for your contacts. As David Brooks points out, networking is not merely a transactional endeavor but a deeply human pursuit. It is about forging genuine connections, understanding others, and being understood in return.

In Conclusion

To maximize your chances of securing a board seat, expand your network beyond your familiar circles. Your immediate contacts will always be valuable, but reaching out to diverse and non-traditional connections can open up new opportunities for all parties. Become a mentor, while also being a mentee. Engage with professionals from different industries, attend varied networking events, and connect with seasoned board members. This strategic expansion will increase your visibility and ensure that you are top of mind as boards create their short lists for open seats.

At the same time, keep in mind that we have the collective power to shape a future where talent is duly acknowledged, opportunities are fairly distributed, and professional advancement is within reach for everyone. It is vital to view networking as a tool for cultivating a supportive and inclusive professional ecosystem. Let us work towards guaranteeing that the advantages of our connections are extended widely and fairly.

“Many people are unable to step outside of their own points of view. They are simply not curious about other people.”

— David Brooks



William “Bill” Jones is an idea creator, a positive change maker. A board member, strategic advisor, and former public company C-suite leader, Bill has deep public accounting and commercial banking experience. Bill is member of Private Directors Association, serves on the Advisory Board of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) Nashville Chapter and is Directorship Certified®.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the authors providing them and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Private Directors Association, its members, affiliates, or employees.

Share this post: