Susan Colantuono

#1 advice for those heading to their first Board position

Gender diversity is not simply a nice to have, but is a performance lever for business.  Organisations need women in strategic leadership roles in order to drive better performance – and women on Boards is one avenue to ensure that performance lever is pulled.

The best bit for you is that landing a position on a Board is seen as a strategic career move, positioning you as leadership material, gaining you exposure to other senior industry figures and, for those heading into the Not For Profit (NFP) sector, enables you to give back in some way to a cause or purpose with meaning.

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However those first few Board meetings can be daunting as there are frequently a range of unwritten ground rules, behaviours and personalities to navigate - along with the more tactical, reflective and influencing expertise you'll need to bring to bear on discussion items.

So to assist those heading into Board territory I’ve asked several experts to provide their number one piece of advice to ensure your foray into the world of being a director is both effective and satisfying.

Susan Colantuono is a speaker, author and internationally acclaimed expert on taking women from career-start to the C-suite and onto corporate boards whose TED Talk on closing the leadership gender gap has 3 million views. 

Susan’s # 1 piece of advice: Heading into your first Board role it's essential that you understand the difference between "governance" (the role of the board) and "management" (the role of the executives). This is especially important because many first Board experiences are on nonprofit Boards where directors are expected to fill in for management. Be aware of when it's appropriate (raising funds) and when it's not (second guessing the CEO). Read everything you can on Board excellence. I highly recommend Beverly Behan's works including Great Companies Deserve Great Boards.

Penny Bingham-Hall: After more than 20 years in the corporate world Penny embarked on a career as a Non Executive Director (NED) 6 years ago and now has a wonderful and diverse portfolio of ASX100, government, unlisted and NFP boards which she loves.

Penny’s # 1 piece of advice:  Allow plenty of time to read your board papers properly (it gets easier!) and ask the company secretary for explanations of any acronyms, project names or references you don’t understand before the meeting so you are as well informed as you can be. Then walk into that first meeting quietly confident that you’ve been appointed because they value your skills and experience, and because the other directors think you will fit into their team. Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t contribute a lot to board debates in those first few meetings because it takes everyone a while to really understand a new organisation and be able to apply your particular expertise to the task at hand.

Steve Bowman is an internationally recognised Governance, Strategy, Risk and Leadership advisor to organisations worldwide. He has been advising Boards and NFP leadership for years on governance, strategy and performance.  He regularly presents, publishes and consults on the critical importance of remaining strategic.

Steve very generously says: The key to making a true contribution to your Board and the stakeholders they are creating the future for, is to be strategic from day one. Here are some very practical pointers for you to consider prior to your first Board meeting.

  1. Read your strategic plan, understand the key strategies, and be prepared to ask questions at the Board meeting that use the strategic plan as a filter. Some of these questions might be "How does that assist us in our strategic direction?" "Where in the strategic plan dos this fit?" "Going forward, what are the strategic issues around what we are discussing?"
  2. Read and use your vision statement to help shape your comments and questions. Focus on the two or three key elements of the vision, and reflect them in your discussions and comments
  3. Read your financial statements for strategic insights, not dollars. Key questions to focus on include "What are the strategic implications behind any key reasons for variance?" "How do our key ratios measure up against our agreed ranges for those ratios, and what are the strategic implications of these ratios?" "How is our cash flow shaping up against our budgeted cash flow and what if anything do we need to start doing about it?"
  4. Make sure you understand the two or three key risks that the Board have agreed, and weave them into your conversation or questions.
  5. Make sure you insist on receiving an induction program that includes mandatory mentoring, is developed over a 12 month period, and is tailored to your needs.
  6. And...enjoy the contribution you will bring to your Board, from the first Board meeting. There is a chance you will be better prepared than a number of longer serving Board members.

Sharon Berkefeld has held both executive and non executive Board roles in the NFP sector and heads up her own online retail company, she is a graduate of the Chartered Institute of Company Directors, and CPA and will commence her PhD in Directors Duties in 2017.

Sharon’s # 1 piece of advice: Value yourself, the role you play and the contributions you are making to the board, the organisation and the broader stakeholders. It is my firm belief that unless you believe in yourself and take pride in your value no one else will.

So there you have it.  It’s not rocket science, it can be challenging but it can also be an extremely rewarding to flesh out your career.  In a nutshell:

  • Stay strategic
  • Do your due diligence and homework
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for help in understanding the reports
  • And do place value your contribution.

So don’t be shy.  Do your Board training then work out where your expertise or strategic influence might be best utlised and go find a position where you might be able to make a bigger and more strategic difference.

Vive la révolution!

#ambitionrevolution #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes #feminineambition


Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

Feeling ambitious? Three inspiring TED talks to keep you focused

Whether you are entrepreneurial or have a corporate focus, strategically managing your time and harnessing energy is pretty important. So here at The Ambition Revolution we are constantly on the look out for resources, tools and inspiration to help you play a bigger and better game - far more easily.  And while I'm a great believer in the beauty of books as development tools, sometimes a powerful video is equally as good, if not better, as it cuts right to the heart of the issue in a short period of time.  

I've curated the following three TED talks - not just because they'll help you you tackle your current role better, but because they just might help you see yourself differently - reminding you of your "why", your "what" and your "how" in ways that expand possibility - and help you get ahead more easily.

1. Why Gender Equality is Good For Everyone - Men Included (Michael Kimmel15 mins

The first is a talk by Michael Kimmel from the May TEDWomen 2015 conference.  Michael is the author of Angry White Men and a scholar on the topics of men and masculinity.  His rather humorous take on the gender equality issue makes it well worth watching and might give you a few new insights as to why you should step up, speak out and take charge.

In a nutshell, it's a great reminder that gender equality is about both men and women, and any inequality is a societal issue (not simply a women's issue). He reminds us of the notion of privilege and how the more invisible privilege is, the more fortunate you are.  He also reminds us that when anyone has to give up power it's going to be a challenge, so we need to help people see the benefits of giving up power in ways that make meaning to them.  You can read a summarised version of his talk here

So why? Because organisations are frequently better off, because you are frequently better off and because men are also better off in the long run when women step up, speak out and take charge.

There is no Mars and Venus, but in fact we are allies here on planet earth and our interests are the same.”
— Michael Kimmel

2. The Career Advice You Probably Didn't Get (Susan Colantuono13 mins

Susan Colantuono is the CEO and founder of Leading Women. You can read more about her here.  She is also the author  of a book called No Ceiling, No Walls: What women haven't been told about leadership, "which takes a close look at the conventional wisdom keeping women from rising from middle management."  

This talk is your how.  It's for anyone who feels like they've worked hard at "doing the job" only to find out that this doesn't get you ahead very fast. That there is a set of curriculum to which you've not been privy to,  and that is not easily taught (or spoken about at women's functions) - strategic acumen, financial acumen and business acumen - "the missing 33%".  

As women we've been socialised since birth to "work hard", to "do the job really well" and to be incredibly loyal to role, department or an organisation. What happens if these behaviours actually keep you "mired in middle management" and get in the way of getting ahead?  

With the right leadership skills, the highest levels of career success are well within reach. Unfortunately, conventional wisdom about leadership won’t get you to the top. Much of it is outdated, incomplete, and ineffective. What you need is.........The Missing 33%!
— Susan Colantuono

So how? Find mentors, coaches, champions and sponsors who can guide you specifically in these sorts of big picture intelligences (the missing 33%) so you can execute bold, audacious moves more easily.

3. Why Ambitious Women Have Flat Heads (Dame Stephanie Shirley) 13 mins

From the TED website:

"Dame Stephanie Shirley is the most successful tech entrepreneur you never heard of. In the 1960s, she founded a pioneering all-woman software company in the UK, which was ultimately valued at $3 billion, making millionaires of 70 of her team members. In this frank and often hilarious talk, she explains why she went by “Steve,” how she upended the expectations of the time, and shares some sure-fire ways to identify ambitious women …"

Wow! So in 1962 this amazing woman not only started her own software company in order to provide a great place to work for women and to make serious money - but also invented the Black Box.  This is inspiring and sad all at once because it highlights that as women in the workforce, we haven't really come all that far, and yet at the same time it's quite clear that we women can and will continue to create and undertake amazing work despite this.

This talk is about your "what". Aim high. Embrace a possibility mindset. Got a big idea? Give it a crack!  Go explore it. Yes, you can. And yes, you should. Don't believe your internal mental chatter or what other people say. 

We waste too much time being afraid, when what we should really fear is wasting time.”
— Stephanie Shirley, Let IT Go - The Memoirs of Dame Stephanie Shirley

So what? Stop playing your B game, stop planning small. Why shouldn't your idea be groundbreaking, earth shattering or incredibly popular?  If you ever need proof - consider the guy who invented the pool noodle!  

“When we dream small we create small things. When we dream big, we create powerful change.”

So have you worked out your why, what and how yet?

Maybe after watching these TED talks you'll start dreaming and scheming again - connecting back with your reason for being.  Just maybe these talks will inspire you to tackle your next promotion or opportunity with a little more clarity, focus and precision.

And more importantly, who are we to be thinking and playing small? Creating a new reality for yourself and others is yours for the taking, if you choose.

Vive la révolution!  #ambitionrevolution

  • I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and  art of amping smart and savvy. 

  • I mentor busy professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game. 

  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so.

Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months