Feature Story

From CIO to Board of Directors

Before joining a company board, make sure you have what it takes to be an effective digital director.

According to Holly Morris, former CIO who has served on three organizational boards, there are several ways CIOs can enhance the skills that boards seek:

  • Continue your high performance as CIO.
  • Focus on business operations over technology development.
  • Work on your leadership gaps. Focus on improving ideas vs. blocking them.
  • Strengthen your communications and relationships with board members of your own employer. Offer them help and insight.
  • Broaden your cybersecurity expertise.
  • Pursue assignments that can help you build your broader management skills.

When you are ready to land a spot, begin your search in earnest. Beyond connecting with high-level recruiters, there are other distinct networking opportunities, including:

  • Executive roundtables: Present on cybersecurity or other director-friendly topics at a gathering of CEOs. This gets your name and expertise in front of people who could help you land the perfect directorship.
  • Associations: Join industry-specific organizations. Also, join or build contacts in board-focused groups such as the National Association of Corporate Directors and WomenCorporateDirectors Foundation.
  • Alumni groups and academic circles: Business school professors are often asked to recommend potential matches for board openings.

Several speakers at CIOs as Digital Directors, a half-day symposium that was held in St. Paul, Minnesota, on October 4, 2016, noted that their first board positions were with nonprofit organizations. In some cases, even with small homeowners’ associations. Board experience at nearly any level can help you better understand and work with complicated interpersonal dynamics and board mechanics.

Theresa Wise, former CIO at Delta Air Lines, advised being patient and persistent in finding a board seat.

“The better boards aren’t looking for someone for tomorrow. They’re planning for succession 12, 18, or 24 months out,” she said. “So take the time to explore and prospect, and find the best fit for your skills.”