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If You Want to Be Effective on a Board Become a Global Advisor

By Sue Harnett


Advising a CEO requires a unique perspective and skills that we don’t always practice in our day-to-day work. It’s about your ability to listen deeply, ask great questions, and work with a CEO. For those of us shifting from operating roles, getting into the mindset of advising and out of our execution hats can be difficult. It takes practice.


At How Women Lead we provide an opportunity for you to practice those skills. Through our Global Advisor program you get the chance to be strategic counsel and advise a CEO of a social impact organization. So who are these people you might be advising?


They are CEOs from across the globe, small to very large organizations, tackling our most pressing global issues. Their challenges are significant, often overwhelming and fraught with knotty issues. They are resource constrained and have many, many, stakeholders. They are often very isolated and don’t invest in themselves. As a Global Advisor you serve an absolutely essential role to ensure success and it is a powerful training ground given the enormous challenges. So how do you help ensure success?


You learn how to listen deeply, hold the container for the leader to find their own solutions, and ask questions that inspire strategic thinking. You help them get out of the weeds and ensure risk has been thought of. These are the same critical skills for all board members. And practicing these skills early in a supportive environment can make all the difference in you walking confidently into the board room.


Through our program, we offer you support throughout your advising role. How Women Lead offers training on how to be a supporter when a leader just needs a sounding board, and in this context, perhaps most importantly, how do you deeply understand the cultural framework that you and the CEO bring to the relationship. We also give you training on great questions to ask like:


  • What does success look like to you?

  • Is there another potential outcome you can imagine?

  • What are the biggest opportunities that would be game-changers for you today?

  • How does your leadership impact your stakeholders?

  • What do you need to do to be able to see the solution clearly?

  • If you were to start all over today, would you change anything?


These are examples of questions that elevate the thinking of CEO’s.


Asking questions that elevate the thinking of CEOs, and showing that you have the skills to do so, is the way to secure your board seat and add value once you are in the boardroom. We know that to get in the door for a board opportunity you need to have the skills and experiences that the organization or board needs. Once you go to the interview, however, it's far more about your ability to listen deeply, ask great questions and show that you have experience and confidence working with a CEO. Practice like this can be a great step to building your confidence and experience. Plus, watching a CEO explore, learn, and grow is tremendously rewarding.

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