5 Key Traits: Hiring an Outside Board Member

By Chris Yount

What to look for 

Family boardrooms are full of interesting and -- some might say -- colorful characters, but sometimes it is necessary to add board members from outside the family. Bringing in someone from outside the family is a huge challenge, but it has an upside. How do you best find the right board members? Here are top five traits to consider when looking for an outside director. 

1. Smart: This one goes without saying, but I’m still going to say it. Board members are hired for their brain power, and they need to be insightful. Look for someone whose brilliant ideas will push your strategy forward. 

2. Experienced: The more relevant their experience, the more valuable the board member will be. You want someone who has been in your position and understands what it is like to make tough decisions. Use their experience and learn from their mistakes.

3. Compassionate: Family businesses have more emotional baggage than other companies and therefore need compassionate outside directors to understand the family history and complications. Someone whose analysis is strictly by the numbers will not be able to relate to the way you navigate decisions. 

4. Composed: Erratic behavior, outbursts and volatile emotions are not productive either. Look for someone who can keep a level head, even in a crisis. 

5. Confident: A good outside director needs to be able to stand up for their opinion. Sometimes the emperor needs to be told they have no clothes. Look for someone who can defend their ideas but will be able to accept the decision if another option is chosen by the group. 

Chris Yount led his third-generation family business before selling it in 2018. He writes the Family Business magazine column "Board Adviser."

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