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What Makes a Successful Board Member

A board member who is successful takes their role seriously, and makes a significant contribution. They should be able to make difficult decisions, to think strategically and to keep the big picture in their mind, while also contributing their unique perspective based on their personal experiences. A strong board of directors will help the organization achieve its mission and goals by offering guidance and supervision. They will be driven to see the organization thrive and are not afraid to voice their opinions.

While having a lot of connections is essential for organizations however, they should also focus on attracting people who are passionate about the cause and willing to dedicate their time. It’s also necessary to ensure your board members possess the necessary skills. According to Institutional Shareholder Services, the boards of Enron, Kmart, and the struggling retail company Warnaco all had members with a variety of financial skills and knowledge–including former Stanford deans who are also accounting professors, a well-known Asian financier, and the former head of the U.S. government’s Commodity Futures Trading Commission–yet these credentials were not enough to keep the companies from failing.

In the same way, regular attendance at meetings is often considered an indicator of conscientious board members. However, as Stanford GSB adjunct professor of corporate governance Nell Minow points out, this measure alone isn’t enough to distinguish boards that are good from bad. The attendance records for the boards at GE and WorldCom (which were both on Fortune’s list of 2001’s most-admired informative post companies), show little difference.

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