The Ins And Outs Of The Challenging Board Environment With Nancy May

As the world continues to change, so does the dynamics of how businesses are managed. Helping you keep up, CEO of BoardBench Companies, Nancy May, guides us through the ins and outs of challenging board environments. Noted in Forbes as one of America’s governance experts, Nancy shares with us her experience getting into BoardBench and becoming its CEO, and lends some great wisdom on seizing opportunities, being a women on the board, taking on a leadership role, and marketing yourself. Learn more from Nancy as she further tackles the legal ramifications of the fiduciary responsibilities of board members in this episode.

TTL 623 | Challenging Board Environment


I’m so glad you joined us because we have Nancy May here. Nancy is the CEO of BoardBench Companies. She has been noted in Forbes as one of America’s governance experts. I’ve met her through a board that we served on for the board of advisors at DocuSign, but she also is a Board of Directors Specialist. She’s got Boardroom’s Best podcast. If you’re thinking about serving on a board or you had questions about boards in general, this is your show.

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The Ins And Outs Of The Challenging Board Environment With Nancy May

I am here with Nancy May, who is the CEO of BoardBench Companies. She has been noted in Forbes as one of America’s governance experts. She’s known to know the ins and outs of challenging board environments. She’s also the host of Boardroom’s Best podcast. It’s recognized as one of the top 25 business podcasts to listen to. Welcome, Nancy.

Thank you, Diane. It’s a pleasure to be here.

I was looking forward to this and I’m not lying when I say I listen to your podcast. You had a two-part episode where you hit on some of the legal ramifications. 

Yes, it was my friend, Perry.

It was a great episode. I’m very interested in what got you interested in the boards to begin with. You and I met through serving on the Board of Advisors for DocuSign and Keith Krach put that group together. It was an amazing experience. I’m curious, what led to your interest in doing all of this?

Many people who are going into this field are interested in the boards because that’s the seat of power that many people assume is there rightly so. However, my path was a little different. It’s probably been about several years ago and I was doing strategy work, I had my own business, I had come out of corporate and was working with a number of CEOs. They said, “Nancy, you think a little differently. I think you could help me in the Boardroom. Could we have this conversation?” I thought, “Yes, why not?” Several years ago, what was going on in the Boardroom is a little different than what it is now. Although still the progress in governance is a lot slower than I think it needs to be. That’s what we’re dealing with.

It’s interesting when you talk about the differences have changed several years ago. The Enron of the world, different things have made a definite difference in how much we pay attention to what’s going on, don’t you think?

It’s interesting you mentioned Enron. I had the interesting opportunity a few years back to actually speak on a panel with Andy Fastow, the CFO.

How was that?

It was fascinating. I brought the opportunity home to certainly discuss with my husband. I thought he was going to make the decision. I was curious to get his opinion. He said, “Don’t do it. That’s a crook.” Not that I’m necessarily crooked, but it would be an interesting dialogue to have. I called another dear friend who was a very well-known and respected general council. I said, “What would you do?” He said, “Don’t do it, bad juxtaposition.” I called the guy who was putting the panel together and I said, “I’m not going to say no, but I’m not ready to say yes. What if you had the panel with Andy, myself and legal counsel?” He said, “That would be interesting.” I called my friend who was the general counsel and I said, “Would you do this with me?” He said yes without missing a beat. I laughed because he’s the one who told me not to do it. When in doubt, bring your legal counsel and it was a great conversation. I learned a lot by actually reading a lot of the back transcripts in the research reports out of Washington as well as talking to former clients of his. It was an eye-opening. Not too surprising, but it was interesting to hear why clients worked with them directly from the horse’s mouth as they say.

I had Bethany McLean on the show and was the one who blew a lot of that up in her book and the movie all that made about Enron. I think from my research into the board and all the stuff the board has to do, I never thought about the legal ramifications being as severe as they could be. Do you know what happened legally to the Enron board?

I don’t remember the details, but they were likely all to face some litigation. Several of the people are now deceased, including the CEO. The head of the audit committee, I have had several conversations early on in the past years, which was fascinating. They did not seem to appear to have any personal guilt, which I found even more fascinating.

It's human nature to gravitate towards those that are like you, unless you can find somebody that is stellar and magnetic. Click To Tweet

Do you think they knew what was going on? It’s interesting to know how much can you know is going on as a board member. 

In many cases, board members say they didn’t know what was going on. This is my own personal opinion. It is not necessarily fact, but if a board member said they didn’t know what was going on, they have to have some suspicion. Otherwise, how stupid can you be? In talking to the clients, and these were big clients. A number of them had said that they had a very strong suspicion and understanding that something was going on. When I asked them, “Why did you do and continue to do business with them?” The reply time and time again was, “They’re the client and they were good clients for us,” meaning financially good. Until something goes wrong, you don’t cut off the hand that’s feeding you financially. That’s in many ways how the circle can sometimes get exacerbated. It’s too bad because when does the board blow whistle? When did an insider blow whistle? When does a client say, “Something doesn’t smell right here?”

It’s an interesting case study that has taught in several courses. I had students who used to post sites that can lay still a lot of sightings. It’s like Elvis. The whole thing was an eye-opener to see the kinds of things that could go wrong. I think a lot of people interested in serving on boards, but then there is the liability and that’s why I was interested particularly in that two-part episode that you did. Some of this stuff that you talked about was new to me. I didn’t realize that insurance could be dropped after you left and different things that you might be impacted by.

It’s an annual policy. In fact, Barry and I are doing a series of programs together for directors or potential directors. If anybody’s interested, they can certainly reach out and we’re putting that together.

You have great content and a lot of people could benefit from this. I know California had their law where they want to have a certain number of women on the boards and then they started to fight that a little bit. I don’t know where it stands, maybe you do. What do you think about requiring a certain number of women on the board?

I’m on defense about it just as anything. The boardroom is an important place where you have to be on your game. I’m not saying that women are not on the game or minorities are not on the game. I’m female, so I’m on my game whenever needed. We all need our downtime too. Even still, we have to focus on competency and competency comes in all shapes and sizes and packages. The challenge with women and diversity candidates on boards is that in many cases the sitting directors don’t know us for one. They don’t travel in the same circles. When they do, quite often we’re uncomfortable with individuals or groups of people that are not like us. When we are the outsider and many women and minorities are used to being the outsider in typically homogeneous environment, it comes difficult for those who are used to being the norm to say, “How do I have the conversation? What do I do? Maybe they’re like my wife. Maybe they’re not like my wife or they want to date me or what do I do now because of #MeToo?” That’s gotten in the way too. It becomes a little bit more complicated.

TTL 623 | Challenging Board Environment
Challenging Board Environment: If we want to have a seat at the table, then we have to have a certain level of comforter in our own shoes and try to make others feel that they’re as welcome at our table as we are in theirs.


I’ve always said that a female or a minority in any particular case like that, I have gotten bashed for it. It’s our responsibility to make the homogeneous person to feel comfortable with us. It’s our role to do that. If we want to have a seat at the table, then we have to have a certain level of comforter in our own shoes, in our own skin and try to make them feel that they’re as welcome at our table as we are as theirs.

When I think about a lot of the reasons that people have given for why women aren’t in more seats and different things, the traditional board a lot of people envision that it’s all looking at spreadsheets, balance sheets, profit and loss and all financial discussions. A lot of people have said, “A lot of the women I know go into more HR, different types of things.” You hear they want these diverse boards that they wanted. The culture experts, the HR experts to combine not diversity of people, but of their background. Do you see that or are they still pretty much spreadsheet people all wanting more spreadsheet people?

It’s still critical to understand how to quantify value in return. That can be in people. That can be in finance. That can be in technology, it can run the gamut. Spreadsheet people are important because businesses run on numbers. A number of years back, I did a survey among some very top talented people and I said, “What’s the purpose of a corporation?” They came back with all mumbo jumbo stats, “It’s a higher order of God and the life goes on.” There was only one after about a five-minute conversation who said, “The purpose of the business is to make a profit so it can sustain itself.” I’m like, “Bingo.” The purpose of a business is to acquire and retain customers at a profit, end of the story. That’s as simple as purest form. If you’re in HR and you want to be on a board and you don’t understand that, you shouldn’t be sitting on that board. If you’re in technology and you’re creating college technology for technology’s sake, you shouldn’t be on that board. You will end up being a ball and chain and distracting the board from what its role is.

What discussions do you guys have when you have these board meetings where they’re usually a day and a half-day, whatever you have set up many times a year, at least four times a week they expect?

I would hope at least if not more.

I’ve seen it less though. That still surprise me. What’s the norm of the number of meetings and how they function?

How bright do you want your star to shine where you're not going to overpower somebody? Click To Tweet

The baseline has always been four and there are more and more meetings that are taking place over the course of time because of the complexity and the risk of what’s going on out there and in the global economy. I would say that on average you’re talking at least six meetings a year and it could be more, especially if there’s some disaster ala Enron’s. There was one chairman of a board I remember having a chat with, he actually said to me, “Nancy, I don’t get paid enough for this job.” He was dealing with a company with a major legal and financial crisis. The CEO had been not legally taken out. I’m saying in handcuffs because they’re GC and I said, “It wasn’t really any handcuffs.” I said, “No, it sounded like it, but close to it.” His complaint was he didn’t get paid enough for this day in and day out. He had an office down the street from the company where he was dealing with this stuff.

You have to be ready and aware that the proverbial can hit the fan at any time. You hope that’s not going to happen. Things do take place. There could be some global disaster or it could be a 9/11 case. All of a sudden what happened? Boards and senior management were trying to figure out what was going on, how do they keep their businesses afloat? How do you keep the connection going especially if you’re financial services company when all of a sudden Wall Street shutdown? I say that every board member has to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

I talked to a lawyer about this once and he was saying when I was talking about liability and what he thought, which industries are good or bad? To avoid or not to avoid? He’s like, “I would steer clear of banking and healthcare because of the legalities.” What do you think of that opinion?

I’m not necessarily sure that there are any one or two industries that you want to stay away from. It still comes down to the quality and ethics of the leaders in the company and the business that you’re following. You certainly don’t want a Theranos. There were signs and factors that were obvious to others. Why did that not come forward beforehand? Those are people that may not have done their homework well enough work or trusted the due diligence to people that may not have been necessarily as strong at that task that they should have been.

That is such an interesting case. Maybe it was her hypnotizing eyes. The whole thing fascinated me. I love the HBO special they did on it. I don’t know if you’ve watched that.

I hadn’t seen it. It would be a dream if they could do something like that. Who knows? This actually may come to fruition with another company down the road at some point. It would be great.

TTL 623 | Challenging Board Environment
Challenging Board Environment: The purpose of a business is to acquire and retain customers at a profit.


I’ve had a lot of people on the show who talk about that you’ve got to fake it until you make it mentality because most people don’t want to invest in you if they don’t think you’ve got the perfect thing. Most of them think they’re going to have it. I’ve had people defend her to some extent saying she probably thought she could eventually get to it. Others are like, “No, she was whacked out.” I’ve had every direction on that one. The board, in that case, was an elite group. How stunned were you by that?

I’m not surprise at all. Somebody drank the Kool-Aid and they all sat around because they liked the same flavor of Kool-Aid. It happens time and time again. How do you think board members select other board members? It’s still happening even if you’re working with an outside organization. It’s human nature to gravitate towards those that are like you. Unless you can find somebody that is stellar and magnetic. That can be a great way for a potential candidate to go in there. How bright do you want your star to shine where you’re not going to overpower somebody? I’ve seen that backfire for people too. Sometimes your stars are a little too shiny for somebody in a group of individuals and they’re fascinated, but you’re better off as a consultant as opposed to a colleague in the boardroom. It’s an interesting set of dynamics and each environment is slightly different because each group of people is different.

I can imagine from all the teams I’ve been on, you change one person, it changes the whole dynamic in that respect. A lot of people who are reading this might be considering joining boards. A lot of it is, you get it through your friend. People find you because they’ve heard about you. Is there any best way if you’ve never served on a board and you’re interested in doing it, what’s the beginning steps?

It’s one of the things that I do. I do coach senior executives on how to do that. I’ll do a preface on that. The reason why I got into that because with all the board work that I was doing, I found that some competent and exceptional potential candidates didn’t know how to present themselves and didn’t know how to be comfortable in a boardroom, yet they could have been stellar. Knowing how to package yourself, knowing how to have a conversation in the right way, knowing how to make and ask without being annoying.

Showing a little more intelligence.

You’d be surprised how many people keep asking the same question over and over again and expecting different results, the definition of insanity. They said it came from Einstein, but I’m not sure Einstein is smart enough to come up with that one. First of all, you have to be confident. There’s a certain level of competence and confidence that goes together with that. On top of it, you need to be able to show that you know how to have muscle and move the needle forward and know what to do in a difficult situation. Honesty, in ethics goes a long way. Doing the due diligence on individuals who may or may not have that is a skill that a lot of directors and outside organizations who are searching for directors don’t know how to have because their main goal is to put a button on a chair. It’s more than that. If you are concerned about your client or the board in that particular case and you’re helping a board find a director, you absolutely have to be concerned about the competence, the confidence but the ethics behind the story, the picture and the man or the woman that’s there. That’s critical and the reason why they want to be there and too often that’s not asked.

Until something goes wrong, you don't cut off the hand that's feeding you financially. Click To Tweet

If somebody asked you that question, “Why do you want to be here?” What do you think is a good answer? 

I can tell you what dumb answers are because I heard them all. Some of the dumb answers are, “If I get 3, 4 or 5 boards, I don’t have to worry about my pension.” The CEO of a fairly well-known financial institution had one said, “I’ve got a good pension. I’ve got a good retirement package. I’ve got enough money in the bank. If I do this on the side, then that’s my play travel money and I don’t have to worry about impacting the rest of it. My kids and my family will be fine and they’d gotten a nice inheritance.” I’m like, “Okay.” Those kinds of people I put on, literally I have a file that I call my No Way in Hell list. Whether I work with them individually and professionally, there’s no way in hell. I don’t know if there are other people that have that, but that’s my list. I can be polite, but get him out of my way. It’s like, “I don’t have time for this.” Hopefully, none of the people that I work with or want to work with will ever have time for that.

What’s the most positive one?

There are many ways to do it. Certainly, people want to give back in the world. If you’re going to give back, go find puppies and kids. Although there is a certain element of giving back. You learn something, you want to continually strive to do better for the world. Not so much the Kumbaya, but think about what you’ve done and how you can actually contribute value and return to a company or an organization that can benefit greatly from what you’ve got or if not you the resources that you’ve amounted to. Quite often, I see that a leader may come up the corporate channel typically they do. Once they go out of that role, their network and their resources drop off dramatically because they don’t have that corporate brand behind them anymore. That’s a skill that a good leader needs to build early on. Have your team, your horses, your stable, everything else behind you and keep that working and that’s hard to do.

The greatest at that is Keith Krach.

Keith is a great example. It’s a skill that the typical corporate executive doesn’t have. Even a CEO, quite frankly, a couple of years back, there was a CEO that I’m still quite friendly with and have great respect for, but he was doing some outreach for a fundraiser and I donated. He did an email and he said, “Nancy, you’re one of two out of all the hundreds of people I sent out to that actually contributed. Why?” I said, “I want to have great respect for you. I know that you’re a kind person and it means well.” We’ve become friends that’s part of it, but why they haven’t. I said, “Quite frankly, Joe, you don’t have the corporate who had a name behind you anymore. You don’t carry the checkbook. You have no value to anybody else.” If you’re an executive out there looking for that board seat, understand what your value is and what you can bring to the table beyond what you’ve learned over the course of your career. There’s so much more that makes a good board member, a good leader and a good contributor.

I had noticed that Harvard has this four-day program where they charge $10,000 to have you learn to be on board. If you get on a board, do they usually send you to something like that or they expect that you know all the stuff? Do they expect you’ll take something like that on the side? What kind of training is involved?

The best training is in the boardroom training. However, there are lots of organizations out there and there’s a ton of stuff that’s out there free of charge that you don’t have to pay for. Every consulting group, organization, law firm and accounting group, you name it, has got some training program. As far as I’m concerned, all the training in the world does not end up adding the same value as when the rubber meets the road. Knowing what’s going to happen in a small group environment because it’s a different kind of trusted relationship than a simulation. You can’t simulate it because there’s a certain amount of posturing that goes on in those groups and I’m not bashing them because they’re a good experience to have. If you’re going to lay up the money yourself, you better understand what the value return is for yourself. The company’s going to pay for it. Let the company pay for it. I haven’t heard a huge value other than they get an idea of what it’s like to be in the boardroom. You can find that elsewhere. Join off a powerful not for profit. You’re going find out what it’s like because it takes work.

It’s interesting because I’ve served on several board of advisor groups and each one is different. Some of them do remind me a little bit of board of directors because of the size of them. When you and I were, it’s very unique because there were 200 people or whatever eventually that he had a mass, which was an unbelievable networking opportunity. Some board of advisors are very interesting to be part of. It’s all interesting to me the legal ramifications when you’re in a board of directors versus board of advisor’s position, their offerings, the insurance. Do you want to talk a little bit about the insurance that they offer just so people know?

If you’re a fiduciary for a company, whether it’s a not for profit or for-profit public or private, they should be offering what they call directors and officers insurance, D&O Insurances is what it’s typically called. That is to help protect you, the director, from any potential liability. I would seriously encourage anybody who’s on a board to get personal additional coverage or a personal umbrella policy just to cover yourself. I know some directors who have all their assets tied up in trust upon trust this company. It becomes this maze of convoluted different organizations underneath the trust so that the walls and the barriers are hard to even breakthrough. In some cases, that may not necessarily be applicable to an individual. In some cases, depending upon the size of the organization, it may and the risk factors. Understand that there is a risk in being a director. It’s not getting your travel money. You can have fun with the grandkids or family.

Do you ever worry about it?

Of course, because you don’t always know what’s going on underneath you. You can’t be in there day-to-day. You don’t necessarily know if the CEO is getting the true story. You hope they are. Even CEOs have been caught off guard. Sometimes by pure innocence, there was one CEO who was scared to death after he ended up retiring. He said, “Nancy, we are almost going to have to restate earnings because one well-intentioned junior legal person was making a change to some particular policy or legal application that was going on in the company. It would have totally changed the entire earnings report.” I didn’t know the details, but it shivers through him. It was a well-intentioned idea by a junior that didn’t know any better. Things like that can happen, especially when you’re dealing with technology. Think about a company that had a major financial firm that backed up a lot of the others. What happened is that there was a glitch in the software and all of a sudden the trading went bonkers and thousands of their clients lost huge amounts of money. All it took would have taken was the approval of anybody to turn that switch off of the trading stocks.

The boardroom is an important place where you have to be on your game. Click To Tweet

You had to have the powers that you’ve had to go up the chain. When do you set policy within the company to actually say, “If there is a major disaster, do they have to go up and ask the CEO or do you give the power to a more junior level person to say in case of emergency break glass.” Go wait for the oxygen to come down to get the plain thing. Break the glass and get out the hammer and start hacking at the walls.

If somebody’s reading and they’re thinking “I want to do this,” but they don’t know what they want to do next, what can you help them with and what should they know for the next step?

The next step would be is to assess where you are. If you’re a more junior person, start planning for that board career. Understand that you do not need to know how a company operates financially and logistically, how does the company work?

How do they learn that?

They can learn it through school. They can ask for promotions, they can get outside education and training on it. Better yet, don’t ask for a mentor, find somebody that you know and respect and say, “I like your guidance on this.” A mentor relationship is a lot more than a formal assignment. It takes a two-way street. The protégé is the person that is guiding you. They’re the ones that have the knowledge. How do you get the best knowledge from that individual or other individuals? I recommend that everybody gets a personal board of advisors. Decide who you want to learn from. Who are the best and the brightest, either in your company or in other industries that you want to extract the most value from? Learn how to return the value back. You can only soak so much water out of a sponge until it dries up and it’s not useful anymore to you or anybody else. That’s the first thing.

Then figure out how do you package yourself, “What do I do or what are the things that I need to do? I need to understand how to quantify and qualify the results that I’m doing and providing to accompany with the value of my returning to that company and to the company’s customers or shareholders.” Start figuring out, “Where do I need and where can I get experience?” Non-for-profits are good ways to understand how much work it takes, but you have to be committed to the mission. Do not join a not for profit board unless you’re absolutely passionate about the mission, end of story. A non-for-profit is not necessarily the way that you’re going to get a corporate seat. It’s a way to understand what it means to be a fiduciary.

TTL 623 | Challenging Board Environment
Challenging Board Environment: A non-for-profit is not necessarily the way that you’re going to get a corporate seat. It’s a way to understand what it means to be a fiduciary.


How do you get the corporate seat?

Part of that is networking. Part of that is exposure. The other part is making sure you’re packaged properly. Positioning yourself as a peer. You’re a peer in the boardroom. You’re no longer a fish in the sea or another executive looking for a job. It’s packaging. Who do you want to be with? What pond do you want fish in? Get to know where the fish are. Go fishing in that pond. Don’t go in the pond where everybody’s looking for the same opportunity, which you’ll see time and time again out there. You don’t have to dig a little bit more and get what you want.

How do you find those ponds? What ponds? Do you go to events that are sea-level events?

The ponds are going to be small and they’re going to be hidden or not typically large, if they’re not large oceans. The large oceans are conferences. It’s not a bad place to be, but you are going to be in one of how many other minnows trying to grab that worm from the hook. I’m not a fisher. I have other sports, but it seems like the best analogy. What are you doing to make yourself different? What are you making yourself to be attractive? It’s marketing 101. Consider yourself to be the product on the shelf. When coaching women, a lot of it is psychology because we get in our own ways and time and time again. I can be sexist because I’m female.

If you’ve ever gone into a perfume store or jewelry store, what is the most beautiful series of packages on the shelf that you’re attracted to? If you consider yourself and think of yourself as the package, you’re into marketing that package, you’re not marketing the company behind you. You think of yourself as the item because too often as an executive, we don’t sell ourselves. We don’t know how to do that. How many times in the course of our career do we actually market and sell ourselves? It’s when we’re changing jobs. We look to recruiters to do that for us. You are the lone wolf in the field. You’ve got to figure out how are you packaging yourself so that you become the most desirable, the most attractive, and the only one that they see in the field.

Are they going to recruiters for people or it’s not the best way to go? Who are the good recruiters then?

You have to be ready and aware that the proverbial can hit the fan at any time. Click To Tweet

We are not bashing recruiters, but you have to understand good recruiters have other agendas too. Understand the agenda of the recruiter. There are some politics that come into play, they’ll say no. I’m probably going to get calls from recruiters saying, “Really?” I recruited for boards too and I see what goes on both sides. How often we won against some of the big recruiters and why? One particular case, we had a bifurcated assignment with a very large, well-known recruiting firm who was given the role to find somebody up in Canada, which was female and financial. I thought, “I can do that with my eyes closed.” Let’s be more specific. We were given the assignment of female financial, technology, operations, marketing, retail, it went on to this laundry list of your socks, your shoes, your hat and the neighborhood. I said, “We’ll do this too.” I’m disappointed we didn’t get both. I wouldn’t say easily, but we can it well. The big recruiting firm couldn’t find anybody in all of Canada. I said, “I told you.”

Did they make it too long of a laundry list?

The only list is female and financial. We have a long laundry list. I made a laundry list is too short for them. What happened is in many cases those departments are small similar to ours. We’re a boutique operation. They’ll pass on the assignment to a junior person who will do the work, who doesn’t understand the intricacies and the delicacy that goes on and asking the right questions. Making sure there’s a good fit. What are the challenges ahead for the company and the board? Quite frankly, the management team, because a good board should be an asset to a management team.

At BoardBench Companies, I know you educate people, you get them ready. Do you serve as a recruiter too? 

We’d done that. I’ve done it for many years. It’s my love.

You would know all these people, so you’re a natural to go to. If you’re preparing people, it makes sense.

TTL 623 | Challenging Board Environment
Challenging Board Environment: To market yourself, you’ve got to figure out how you are packaging yourself so that you become the most desirable, the most attractive, and the only one that they see in the field.


They’re doing the coaching for those who want to get on boards is critical and key. They have better candidates makes the job of the board easier. To have the good candidates ready and prepared and knowing how to serve and get through that interview barrier and understanding the politics. Because there’s often politics involved in those interviews and there’s discussion too on how to handle those well. We’re not typically prepared for that outside of our own company.

If somebody hired you, how much time do you spend? What does it take to get somebody up to speed?

It depends upon what we’re doing. I work on several different levels. The first is if you want to package bio, resume, some of the material, we’ll get into some of the headspace and that’s a couple of weeks. It usually runs about twelve weeks. I’m committed to making sure people understand the details of what needs to be done themselves. It’s their words. How do you market yourself? How do you package yourself? To have somebody else do it for you is not going to work. It’s you, you’re selling yourself. Nobody’s picking up the phone and selling you. You’ve got to do it yourself. It’s a new skill. Getting up to speed on that takes a little bit of time, but if they’re good, they get their head in the right space and they start building confidence and they have everything that they need to go forward. From there we have a variety of other packages. Two of the packages that can go either from six months to almost twelve months. That includes all the other networking and the strategy, the relationships and what works and what doesn’t work. I call it the dirty little secrets that happen behind every little door. The good secrets, where are the leverage points as well. Understanding where the traps are and how to avoid them help you find the bright sunny spots too.

A lot of people who I’ve met have the qualifications. They seem to know how to package themselves. They don’t know where to look. Where to be? How to get noticed? To get alone with someone to talk to in that group. A lot of people ask me how I get connect to some of the people I’ve talked to on the show. There’s a point where you get connected as you network. It’s like anything else.

It’s a skill that you’ve built over the years and you know how to ask in a way that is not making you brash, arrogant or a pain in the butt. We all get those calls like, “No.” How many times have you gotten a call? I got an email, it’s like, “I’d like to spend five minutes with you, grab a cup of coffee and pick your brain.” It’s like, “My brain can’t be pick anymore. No, I’m done.” My brain has more value than being picked. I’m not roadkill.

It’s hard to know. I’ve had a few of those turn great. People don’t realize how busy people are. 

All the training in the world does not end up adding the same value as when the rubber meets the road. Click To Tweet

On top of it, how many years of experience have you put into getting to where you are? That’s a value. I respect that and so should everybody else.

You know what I think is also helpful when you’re talking about what’s good with the experience. I’ve been fortunate that I spent decades in sales and teach marketing and a lot of these things that I’m sure you’re helping people with.

You have a psychology background, which is so much a part of it too.

My degree is in Business, but I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence, which is a psychology-based factor. It’s interesting to me to see the skills that they’re looking for in different realms. A lot of people want people who are connected on board of advisors, because they’re looking for meeting other people and who you know. Is it that way with the board of directors as much? Are they looking for connections as much as they are with the advisors?

Less so with a board of directors. It’s an underplayed skill that is not necessarily looked at or questioned on the board. Quite frankly, we are the sum of not our own skills but the skills of everybody else that we know, predominantly the good ones. The value that we have in knowing where to steer away from is as important. The only way you can do that is if you have a large enough connection and network. I hate the term network because it’s got such a bad rap over the years. The last few years when I first started, whenever you get a phone call and say, “I’m looking for a job, thank you.” You’d never hear from that person again. It still happens, but you know how to weed them out a little faster. We’re more valuable with the universe of our relationships than we are by ourselves. Anybody who thinks that they’re so smart to solve the problem all by themselves is working half-baked. Knowing how to use and leverage that network in a way or that group of people that you know and how to get into the nooks and crannies that you don’t know. That was a skill, fortunately, that my dad had taught me over the years. Sadly, he passed away but we got him to 99 years old and it was great.

Our family vacations were conventions and he introduced me to customers, “This is how you do it.” Customers became friends and family and the network became friends and family. Knowing how to have a certain level of comfort in that is huge because you can talk to anybody in the universe and look at them eye to eye and create a sense of attraction. They will be interested in you and you can pull the information and the resources that you need from them and together with them too if you do it right.

You brought up an important point as our friend, Keith Krach, wrote to foreword in my book about curiosity. It’s so much about finding out more. Asking questions, overcoming fear and all the things that hold people back. We need to ask better questions and show that we’re better listeners and all the things that we’ve been held back from. That opens the door to so many opportunities. I think what you’re doing is great because you’re helping people learn all these important skills. Even if they’re old people looking for this, they could have had all this experience in the world, but they may not even know how to tap into it. They may not have actually had certain sales skills and marketing skills, trainings, even though they have a million other skills that are important if you bring it all together. 

It’s not just asking great questions. It’s asking the first question. The first and most important question you can ask anybody to start with this, “Tell me about yourself, Diane.” You’re going to learn a lot by how they answer that question. Are they a jerk? Do they ask about you? Where does the conversation go from there? You will know so much about that person by saying, “It’s great to meet you. Tell me about yourself.”

That’s why I love this job. I get to do that every day. You find out so many wonderful things about people and their backgrounds and what’s led to their success and what they value. It’s a wonderful thing. A lot of people reading could gain so much from you, Nancy. It was so nice of you to share all this information, but I’m sure they want to know more. How can they reach you, listen to your show and find out everything you’re working on?

The podcast is called Boardroom’s Best and that’s on iTunes, Spotify, Castbox. It’s on most of the different networks out there. You can listen to that. My email address is You’re welcome to call. If you email me, we can maybe set up some time but please, if you do email, tell me why. Don’t say you just want to have a cup of coffee and spend time. I got a note saying, “I’d like to spend five minutes with you on the phone.” Why? I’m happy but tell me why. What’s in it for me as well as what’s in it for you? This is a connected universe and it’s not a one-way street.

My mind immediately jumps to multilevel when somebody asks me that.

Be curious and have fun. Be present in everything you do. If you don’t love it, get out of it. Go someplace else. Find something that you do love.

Anybody who thinks that they're so smart to solve the problem all by themselves is working half-baked. Click To Tweet

That’s a great place to end. Thank you so much for being on the show, Nancy. This was so much fun.

Thank you, Diane. It was a pleasure. I think you’re terrific.

I want to thank Nancy for being my guest. It was interesting to talk to her because I serve on so many different board of advisor groups and I learned so much from every one of them. Sometimes, some of them are very similar in size and some of the things that they handle and scope to board of directors, which fascinates me. I was very interested in the liability and the legal ramifications of what board members have because when I spoke as a keynote in Texas, I remember one of the women speakers there, it was a women’s leadership conference and she was talking about the liability that people who have one share of a stock in the company can sue.

I never thought about the legal ramifications of the fiduciary responsibilities of board members. It’s a very important job. We all knew that, but I think it’s good that they’re there taking a look at making sure that everybody’s doing what they should be doing. That was why I wanted to have Nancy on the show. I mentioned it and we were talking about it that she has this two-part of her podcast that is great because it goes into a lot of the insurance requirements. What happens if you leave, if insurance continues to follow? If they change insurance policies, what will happen to you? I hope you take some time to check out what she’s done with sharing that information. She’s got a great show and she’s fun because she gets right to the point. She asked the things on her show that I would ask. I love that because I’m like, “I’m glad she asked that.”

I get many great guests on the show. You can also check the show on iTunes, iHeart, Roku, Echo and Google Play. It’s very simple to follow the show. I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve liked the show on iTunes, I always love to hear reviews. I appreciate that. For those of you interested in finding out more about Cracking the Curiosity Code or the Curiosity Code Index, you can go to the Dr. Diane Hamilton site or you can go directly to Either place you can find the book and take the assessment.

If you’re interested in becoming certified to give the training, we’re doing that on virtual situations and sometimes in person, depending on what situation works out best for you. We offer five hours of SHRM recertification training. For HR professionals or leadership consultants who want to keep their SHRM up to date, that’s available. That’s exciting stuff that we’re doing. Nobody’s doing anything like this. There are curiosity assessments that determine whether people are curious or not, but there’s nothing out there until this. The Curiosity Code Index is the only thing that’ll tell you what’s holding you back from being curious. That’s important because curiosity is the spark to innovation, engagement and motivation and anything you’re trying to fix in leadership.

Why don’t you take some time to take the assessment, let me know what you think about it. You can follow me on social media at Dr. Diane Hamilton. I would love to see a picture of you holding the book or taking the assessment or going through your training. Let me know how everything’s going because it always helps to spread the word. I appreciate the fans of the show. Thank you for joining us for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead radio.

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About Nancy May

TTL 623 | Challenging Board EnvironmentNancy May, CEO The BoardBench Companies, noted in Forbes as one America’s governance experts, knows the ins and outs of challenging board environments. Nancy is the host of the Boardroom’s Best podcast, which has been recognized as one of the top 25 business podcasts to listen to.

She is a regularly featured contributor to the CEO Forum magazine, and is a frequent guest speaker on corporate boards, governance trends, and how candidates can “crack the code” that gets you to a seat at the table.


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