Having mentors and other networks are important in supporting your progression as a director

When I started my director journey, it took me a while to work out what to do. So, in addition to signing up for director training programmes, like many aspiring directors, I reached out to experienced directors I knew and respected to ask them for coffee and their advice.

What I found out was intriguing. Landing a board role was not just about what you know. Who you know was also really important! Some of their feedback to me was:

  • It will take you at least one year to land a board role.
  • You need to have a lot of coffee sessions.
  • Once you are on a board, it can time several months to get comfortable with it.

In hindsight, they were right. Transitioning into director roles can be daunting and frustrating. Sometimes, you feel like giving up after spending a lot of time drinking coffee, having lunches or meeting people in Zoom catch-ups and not getting anywhere.

And once you are on a board, it takes time to build your confidence and be comfortable operating effectively in the boardroom.

As mentioned in my earlier post, the journey to becoming a director can be a long and sometimes arduous process. As a result, gaining your first director role can be challenging. Further, the director recruitment process can be pretty opaque – it isn’t easy to find information on what to do via Google!

I am frequently asked by aspiring female directors to share my advice and tips on how I embarked on my director journey. Here are three of the most important lessons that I learned (so far) on my journey that helped me.

1.    Broaden your director networks

Many current directors I have spoken to were recommended for their roles by work acquaintances they met earlier in their careers. These people were not necessarily their close work colleagues, but people who knew them, their reputation, their values and had observed how they operated at work. Unfortunately, many boards still source potential candidates through word of mouth.

As a result, when building your networks, think broadly and engage with various networks. When looking for roles, reinvigorate relationships with old work acquaintances, clients, and even university alumni.

Whilst it’s great to meet people in person, I’ve found that you can also meet some interesting people online. I’ve got to know some fascinating people at virtual director network events, via LinkedIn and even Twitter. I’ve reached out to ask some of them for coffee as their background was fascinating. Some people will be open to meeting and speaking with you, as they too are looking to broaden their networks and learn from others.

When you meet them, get to know people personally, even though it may be uncomfortable. Make sure that your interaction is genuine, mutual, natural and two ways, not transactional and a sales pitch. Offer and make an effort to help someone who has helped you. Don’t try to force a relationship.

Finally, don’t forget to mention to those you know well that you are looking for board roles; don’t assume that people know your aspirations.

2.    Find director mentors

Mentors definitely can help you along your journey. A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. Consider finding a diverse range of director mentors, especially those who are not like you.

Many director organisations, business school alumni groups and women’s organisations recognise that some aspiring directors find it challenging to find director mentors. As a result, many of them now run formal director mentoring programmes. These programmes match aspiring directors and experienced directors who will work with them for a period of time.

A few years ago, I signed up for a 6-month director mentoring programme with my business school alumni. I was fortunate that my assigned mentor was an executive coach and an experienced listed company board chair. We agreed on several areas I wanted to work on over the 6-months. These varied from how to broaden my networks to how to manage certain board relationships. He kept me accountable for making progress in each area at every call. Having someone who kept me focused on making improvements over time was invaluable.

3.    Join a peer-mentoring group

In addition to one-on-one mentoring, I really benefited from peer mentoring. Peer mentoring is where people at a similar stage of their careers support each other through knowledge and skills transfer. It may be a one-on-one relationship or in a group.

Peer-mentoring sessions allow you to learn from others on a similar journey, share your own experiences, and reflect definitely helps your progression as a director.

Being part of a peer-mentoring group in a psychologically safe space facilitated by an experienced coach or facilitator, combined with one-on-one mentoring, allows you the opportunity for self-exploration and experimentation.

As part of the director mentoring programme I joined, I benefited immensely from its monthly virtual group peer mentoring sessions. I had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of my international peers, share my own experiences, and ask questions. It was like having my own international advisory ‘board’ that I could tap on if I had questions or queries.

Similarly, my peers in that programme in Singapore also met monthly for lunch during the programme. We are all from very diverse backgrounds, have broad experiences, and would not usually have crossed paths outside the programme. Nevertheless, we still regularly catch up with each other 18 months later and help each other on our journeys.

Finally, as alumni of the programme, we still catch up monthly to share our experiences. Between sessions, we connect using electronic means.

From my experience, having access to peer mentoring together with one-on-one mentoring can accelerate your transition to becoming an effective director faster than without a peer mentoring network.


Original article published on LinkedIn on 18 February 2022 available here.