As a technology leader, you know your role in your company has never been more important. Whether to drive value, help meet sustainability goals, understand the risks and rewards of disruptive technology like AI, or protect the business from cyber-attacks, you are indispensable across every department and business unit.

It is therefore a no-brainer to include a CIO, CTO, or CISO on a company’s board of directors. The numbers already prove it. Companies with digitally savvy boards outperformed less tech-literate ones on critical metrics such as revenue growth and return on assets, a 2019 MIT study found. Yet the same study found that just 24% of boards in the US with more than $1billion in annual revenues had these tech-focused board members.

That figure will be higher now, especially given the speed at which the pandemic propelled digital transformation, followed by the revolutionary launch of ChatGPT. Yet finding technology leaders on boards “is overall still fairly uncommon,” says Wolfgang Bauriedel, a Senior Client Partner in Korn Ferry’s Global Technology and Digital practice.

Here are four ways for technology leaders to improve the odds of securing a board seat.

1 Choose wisely

Think carefully about your board ambitions within the context of your career goals and making the biggest impact. Ensure you are motivated by the people and purpose of the organization whose board seat you are eyeing, says Bauriedel. “Finding that right fit is key.”

This process involves asking yourself several important questions.

  • Do you want to sit on the board of your current employer or become an external director?
  • Would it suit you to start with advisory board positions at target companies before aiming for the board of directors? You might consider board membership at a small non-profit first to gain experience. 
  • Would you prefer a public company, where governance and protecting shareholder interests are of the utmost importance, but there’s also the additional responsibility of overseeing management, hiring and firing CEOs, and deciding leader remuneration, as well as the company’s overall strategic direction?
  • Would you prefer a private company, where governance and shareholder interests typically form a smaller part of the role, with the others taking priority?

2 Educate yourself

Just because you are a strong technology leader, that doesn’t automatically make you suitable as a board member. The role involves making decisions around highly complex and often sensitive issues about which you might have limited knowledge. For example, shareholders might demand the CEO stands down or block a coveted acquisition.

You need to build up your understanding of finance, strategic planning, governance, risk, compliance and shareholder rights.

You can prove you’re serious by taking courses on best practices at well-respected academic institutions. Such courses will also help you understand how to maximize your impact via your expertise, and sometimes these are even available internally through your company’s training platforms.


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3 Networking

Networking is obviously crucial, particularly for building connections outside of the tech world, whether internally or externally. What is less obvious is that networking is a skill that needs honing, particularly if you are not a natural.

For those tech leaders whose daily conversations are jargon heavy, practicing how to communicate your expertise in an engaging and simple manner is key to successful networking with non-tech peers.

It is arguably even more important to listen. Again, as obvious as that sounds, many slip up when networking because they are overeager to sell themselves. Self-promotion is important. But you are networking to learn about board responsibilities, opportunities and how you can contribute. Those kind enough to help you will appreciate being heard and remember you for it.

If you are among the many people who aren’t natural networkers, consider hiring an executive coach to help identify social behaviors and blind spots to work on. These coaches are well connected with executive search consultants with access to unique board opportunities.

“If you receive a call from someone in executive search, take the call and have that conversation. At the very least, you can build your network and get on their radar,” says Stefanie Kutteh, a Senior Client Partner in Korn Ferry’s Technology and Software Practice.

And don’t forget to talk with your executive co-workers. A number of them will already be board members and can provide excellent advice.

4 Unique perspective

As a technology leader, you are already in a unique position to add value to a board, thanks to your holistic understanding of a company. After all, tech is now embedded in every aspect of corporate life, every business unit and department. Few other roles can boast this all-encompassing perspective.

“The technology leader’s role has never been viewed as more strategic,” says Kutteh. “Companies are now demanding that technology officers serve as strategic business partners to senior leadership teams and across organizations”.

Take advantage of your unique company-wide technological perspective to form clear points on how your expertise will contribute to the board, backed up with evidence of your track record. How did your initiatives improve revenue and productivity? What innovations did you lead? How did you handle that ransomware attack? Do you have any patents to your name?

Moreover, as our relationship with technology deepens, boards need tech leaders to guide them through the opportunities and the risks it presents—particularly the risks. AI is going to play an increasing role in companies’ growth and product development plans, so boards need to have solid governance in place to protect the company and its stakeholders. As such, next year is going to be an important year for developing AI governance guidelines, says Chris Cantarella, a Korn Ferry Managing Partner, Global Software Sector.

For this reason alone, boards need more tech experts, particularly as many directors feel undereducated and fear being left behind amid an AI arms race. It’s time to compete for a seat at the table.

Take the next steps to become a tech leader today

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