Three key relationships that can help broaden the reach of your leadership talents

Once you have built up your career, creating a strong personal brand with memorable, significant and impactful professional experiences, securing a seat on a board is a logical and exciting step. Board service is the result of both a commitment to excellence in your profession and a history of strong relationships within the community you wish to serve.

It makes sense, then, that the three key relationships required to secure a seat on a board are in the areas of community service, professional development and mentorship. Paying rigorous attention to these important relationships will build evidence of the key traits that are sought in directors — judgment, experience and credibility.

Find a cause which fuels your passion
Put in time volunteering, fundraising, planning events or organizing activities. Longevity with a nonprofit or community organization indicates both commitment and dedication, and in working for a cause in which you have a longstanding interest, it will be obvious that your service and enthusiasm are genuine.

I have chaired the American Heart Association’s board of directors’ campaign and served on the board for The Gathering Place because my family has a history of both heart disease and cancer. I found these involvements to be both personally and professionally rewarding.

Seek out professional development
This is a critical step to gain desirability as a board member. Professional associations provide a wide array of learning and networking opportunities. Go to local or national conferences, attend speaker presentations, take classes, seek out certifications in new skills or obtain training for a particular program or software.

Community learning opportunities, such as Howard & O’Brien’s Conversations with the Board® program, Oswald’s Women’s Leadership Council and the Ohio Diversity and Leadership Conference are excellent ways to network, discover trends and discuss new ideas with people who are subject matter experts.

Find a mentor (or more than one)
This person will be someone who is several steps ahead of you in your career, field or industry and is doing the kind of work you want to do, in the way you want to do it. A formal request can be off-putting, however, so you may want to start by simply asking for advice on a specific action or issue.

As a mentee, be receptive to feedback, ask questions and listen with an open mind to the answers. You can also be a mentor to someone else. You might find mentees through an alumni network, a nonprofit organization where you volunteer or through a formal program offered at your workplace.

With a desire to increase diversity in the boardroom, as well as greater scrutiny from institutional shareholders, regulatory groups and other external constituents, public companies are turning to executive search firms to help them identify and select board members. My experience has been that candidates for board seats who have built these three key relationships are the most successful in their searches and in their subsequent tenures on their boards.

Lee Ann Howard is founder of Howard & O’Brien Executive Search