The Benefits of Coaching for a Board of Directors

When a private business is building a board of directors, it can signify a positive change in the way they do business. Traditionally speaking, private businesses have had a board only as a formality to meet the legal terms of their business structure, as many states require that corporations have a board of directors.

Most privately owned companies if they have a board will have an advisory board typically made up of friends and family. 85% of privately owned companies currently don’t have boards and the majority of the remaining 15% fall under privately equity companies holding majority interest in a private company. These boards are often comprised of family members or close friends of the business owner. In many cases, they don’t even officially meet.

However, more private businesses are moving away from this model and viewing a board of directors as an opportunity rather than a burden. As a part of this, they’re following the footsteps of many public organizations and hiring an executive coach to assist their board members so that the business gets the best possible results. How can a coach help your board? Let’s find out.

Getting Started

Just like a coach can help an individual, they can also help privately owned businesses navigate the board process from day one. A knowledgeable coach can assist with initial candidate selection, guiding the business through the rules and regulations according to their state.

A coach can also help put policies and standard operating procedures in place to help set the hiring standards to find the right board members now and in the future. This transitions into assisting the new board member get comfortable in their role-- but more on that later.

Help Reach Alignment with the Business

In many cases, those seeking a position on a board do so with an agenda. There’s nothing wrong with having personal goals and reasons for wanting this position, so long as they view this as a reciprocal relationship. In a nutshell, it’s fine to have personal goals that you want to reach by joining a board, but you need to prioritize the good of the organization and invest yourself.

An executive coach can help individual board members and the board of directors as a whole understand their alignment with the organization and find the best possible balance between reaching their goals while helping the business reach its goals. A coach can help identify these connections so that board members can get their priorities straight.

Board Position Preparation for Individual Members

Not only can a coach help a prospective board member find a board position, but they can also help prepare the individual for their role. If a private business is putting together a formal board, they can offer the services of a coach on retainer to help with this process. After all, having prepared board members will also help ensure that the business thrives.

A coach can help a new board member:

  • Prepare for and understand their new position;

  • Ensure they have strong coping mechanisms and stress management skills;

  • Highlight their bright spots to put their best self forward;

  • Overcome potential internal obstacles;

  • Work on specific skill sets that will be beneficial, such as critical thinking, organization, and active listening; and

  • Provide accountability and feedback.

In many ways, a coach is like a board of directors for an individual. They offer support, guidance, and direction in the pursual of goals.

Creating Cohesion in the Team

A board of directors often brings forth a variety of different personalities that all have experience and knowledge in a given industry. It’s both a blessing and a curse that those strong personalities won’t always agree with one another. Having a coach that helps the board as a whole can help teach skills for conflict resolution and working together in the face of adversity. With coaching, communication skills will improve and the group will stay productive rather than slipping down a slope into a toxic environment.

The benefit of having one coach for the whole team is the objective understanding of all the key players in the room and how they interact with one another. While individual coaches will always have the interests of their individual client at heart, a coach for a board will have a vested interest in both the individuals and the company they serve.

Assist with Creating Diversity and Inclusion

Having a coach around during the crucial time of filling a board position will help the company move forward as a pioneer in the industry and ensure that the board takes an unbiased approach to filling the position, opening the door for diversity and inclusion.

It doesn’t behoove a board to have all members from the same background with the same experience. In fact, many organizations are striving to add female members to their boards because of the evidence regarding improved financial returns from a diverse board of directors. While progress has been made in this area over recent years, there’s still a long way to go for women and people of color to find a seat at the table.

Even so, businesses have a responsibility to find the right person rather than checking a box on their diversity list-- it’s all about putting in the work and knowing which steps to take. A coach can help with that.

Addresses Specific Issues

Having a coach on hand to assist with a board of directors can also help if there is a specific problem with the board or one of its members. For example, if you have an upcoming merger or acquisition you may want a coach to help the board work through this process. Alternatively, if you have a new CEO you may want to have a coach to work with the CEO and the board to get started and find common ground.

Boards have used coaches to help improve an individual’s communication skills and even take an objective view of how the board is interacting with one another. Essentially, anything that a leader within an organization thinks needs a second look is the call for a coach.

Hiring a coach to assist your board of directors, particularly in a private business that’s making the shift to a formal board set up, can make the process easier and improve the results overall. Look at this process as an opportunity for growth and advancement, and optimize the situation in any way possible.

Meredith Wailes is the president of Bloom Leadership, founder of SEED, and an advisor and builder of women who impact social change. Contact her via or connect on LinkedIn to see how she can help you.