The deadline for nominations to the PASS Board of Directors is rapidly approaching. I figured that it would be great if I chimed in and mentioned what I’ve learned on the Board, what I think would be typical for a board member, and… I don’t know what else, but I really felt that this list needed a third item. Mainly because I wanted to show off that I know how to properly use an Oxford comma.
What Do These People Want From Me?!
When I stepped up and ran for the PASS Board of Directors, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew that I wanted to help make PASS better. Better how? I had a few ideas. We were going to change the world! There would be speaker mentoring and education for all! A chicken in every garage and mittens on our feet! It turns out that my chickens and mittens proposal isn’t going so well, but we’re working on a speaker mentoring program and I’ve been working with Microsoft to get your feedback to them about certifications.
Enough about me! More about you!
Have a Plan
So, this Board of Directors thing, you should have a strong idea of what you would like to change. That could be changes to how we’re governed, increasing our revenue streams, or finding a new Summit location. The point is that you should have a vision of the future. Beyond a vision, it would be helpful if you have some ideas about how you’re going to fulfill that vision. You don’t need to have a complete business plan, although that never hurts.
I can’t stress how important having a strong vision is. The goal is to have Board members act in a strategic role. Rather than plan things and implement them, you should be coming up with broad plans. Once you’ve come up with plans and goals you’ll work with PASS HQ and a few key volunteers to implement things. That isn’t always how things work out, but that should be the goal.
Without a strong vision, it’s very easy to get swept along. This is a two year commitment. if you’re being swept along for two years, you’re going to feel very lost, purposeless, and burnt out. Make sure that you know you have something that you plan to accomplish. When you’re finished with your term you can look back and say “I did that and I’m damn proud of it.” I know that when I’m done, we will have happily gone through and codified and documented more of the abstract selection process. There will be less tribal knowledge and more of it will be available for easy public consumption. I’m going to be happy about that. Know what you’re doing. Have a goal, make a plan. Don’t be afraid to revise it.
The Time of Your Life
People always say that you need to be willing to donate “a few hours a week” of your time if you want to be on the PASS Board of Directors. (They say this for just about anything else, too.) So, how much time does it really require?
That all depends on how much work you take on, how much you can delegate, and your own personal comfort level. The amount of time that I spend on my own portfolio is not typical – that’s not to say that they work less, it’s just that my time commitments come in spikes where I’ll be incredibly busy for three or four months and then a lot of the year things are very quiet. I’m hoping that other Board members will comment here and put forward their opinions and help to add to this article and clear things up for the people who are thinking about running for the Board of Directors. The point is: there’s no fixed amount of time. It’s as much or as little time as you want to put into it.
There’s a one hour conference call once a month. As often as once a quarter there will be an in-person Board meeting. You’ll typically spend a day traveling to and from the meeting and two days on site. This ends up being four week days, in my experience. Of course, one of these in person Board meetings ends up being the PASS Community Summit. So that’s one less week that you have to take off from work.
Skills in Magic
What kind of skills do you need to be on the PASS Board of Directors? We’ve already covered one: planning. You should be reasonably good at planning. You don’t need to be a genius strategist, but you should be able to put together a simple plan and execute on it. These are the skills that you’ve built as a DBA or database developer. You know how to make a list, prioritize, delegate, and execute on that list. If you can do that effectively, you’re halfway there.
The other skills that you would use in running a business the size of PASS… it would help if you had them before starting, but they’re not necessary.
The Free MBA
The PASS Board of Directors is the cheapest and most entertaining MBA program I have found. Nowhere else will you find the opportunity to manage a 7 figure budget while dining on bacon.
You can quote me on that.
One of the greatest things about the PASS Board of Directors is that it really is like an MBA program. I’ve learned about budgeting on a 7 figure scale, about how decisions play out, how to think strategically, how to plan, delegate, project, and all of the other things that they talk about in fancy business classes. Instead of one instructor and a few students, you’re one student with many other instructors. There are five other board members, three members of the Executive Committee, four vendor board members, the immediate past president, and let’s not forget our non-voting representative from Europe. Right there, you’re going to be learning from fourteen other people.
In the last seven months, I’ve learned more about my abilities as a manager than in the rest of my career. I was speaking with a friend recently, and he asked me what I thought about the PASS Board of Directors. Knowing that this friend was in management I said “It’s an awful lot like being a manager without the benefit of a company car and a reserved parking space.” After a hearty chuckle, we proceeded to play golf using a corporate AmEx. Okay, maybe that was a lie. But we did talk about the experience. The one thing that struck me is what I’ve mentioned here – it’s been the greatest education about business and about myself. There are days when I joke that I don’t know why people complain about being managers, all you do is tell people to do something and wait until they get it done. There are other days when I want to shove my head in a mailbox and scream.
The biggest thing that I’ve learned is how to listen. I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my fellow board members. But I’ve learned to listen to what they’re saying and to try to understand where they’re coming from. Sure, we all say things like this, right? That’s what marriages and friendships are about. When you’re making large decisions about the PASS Community Summit or a spring event or a budgetary decision, you suddenly realize how little you listened before and how much you need to listen. You want to know something funny? I don’t find myself agreeing with people any more than I did before I started listening closely, but I do find myself understanding them. That alone has made a huge difference for me professionally and personally.
The Round Up
That’s not a ringing endorsement, but there are bad days. The good days and the learning experiences far outweigh the bad days and the stress.
In the end, it’s been worth it. If I had to do it again, would I still run for election? Absolutely.