executive credibility

Since I don’t have as much interaction with the board of directors as the CEO, how do I build my credibility with board members? If you have recently assumed the role of a corporate executive that is on the radar of the board (e.g., CISO, CFO or CIO), you have probably asked yourself this question on more than one occasion. While this is a reasonable question to consider given the impact of the board on the organization, don’t overthink it.

Whether they’re asked to address a crucial agenda item at a board meeting or attend an informal gathering such as a lunch or dinner, a number of executives get in their own way when it comes to interacting with board members. If this sounds like you, one thing that can help is to keep in mind that the focus of the board members is to sustain the success of the company for which you work (and not specifically to pass judgment on you as an individual). According to the National Association of Corporate Directors, the responsibilities of the board include:

  • Approving a corporate philosophy and mission
  • Selecting, evaluating, compensating and replacing (if necessary) the CEO
  • Evaluating and endorsing management’s strategic and business plans
  • Reinforcing ethical behavior and compliance with laws and regulations, auditing and accounting principles and the corporation’s governance policies
  • Reviewing and approving the corporation’s financial objectives, plans and actions
  • Ensuring management succession
  • Monitoring corporate performance against the strategic and business plans
  • Making sure risks related to the company are identified and mitigated

When it comes to informal gatherings and addressing agenda items with board members, do your homework in order to know your audience. More specifically, try to subtly learn about the backgrounds, personalities and individual objectives of board members to find the best way to engage them. People who have worked with the board members in the past (e.g., your executive colleagues) can be sources of beneficial insight.

Because board meetings typically have full agendas, make use of the information you learned via your reconnaissance so that you can be efficient with the limited time you have with board members. As you prepare, here are some essential guidelines:

Be clear on what you want to accomplish

  • Identify the key points you want to make and why they are important to the business

Don’t overwhelm them with facts and visuals

  • Use facts and visuals to help tell your story not as replacements for your story

Practice to establish comfortable proficiency

  • Rehearse so that it feels like a conversation as a opposed to a speech

Remember that less is more with this audience

  • Tell your story and then leave time for questions

Embody candor and professionalism

  • If you get a question you can’t answer, calmly explain you don’t have the answer but you will get back to them ASAP (then be sure you do)


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Welcome to the Boardroom, Flickr)