Board members are in a unique position to inspire the leadership of a company to greatness.
During her 11-year career at Sleep Number Corporation, Kathy Roedel experienced firsthand the impact that a corporate board can have on an organization. The company’s full executive leadership team participated in every board meeting, giving her a front row seat to board operations.
“In observing our board and working so closely with them, I learned what makes a great board member and the impact, both in good times and bad, that the group can have on the company,” Roedel said.
“I can still hear some of their words—statements they made that really helped us crystallize a strategy or fix a problem,” she said.
That positive experience helped propel Roedel to where she is today. After retiring in 2016, she now serves on three corporate boards: Columbus McKinnon Corporation, Generac Holdings and the Jones Family of Companies. She is one of five senior leaders honored by Twin Cities Business magazine as Outstanding Directors for 2019.
Before the awards ceremony, she talked with us about what she’s learned from corporate board service and what it takes for senior leaders to land a seat at the table.
Package Your Strengths in a Targeted Board Bio
Navigate Forward is a key partner for anybody that wants to fully discover where they go for their encore, whether it’s board service or anything else.
Roedel’s personal journey included a Board Readiness engagement with Navigate Forward. While she understood the key differences between hands-on management and a board’s more strategic role, she appreciated Navigate Forward’s marketing tools and one-on-one guidance.
“Navigate Forward is a key partner for anybody that wants to fully discover where they go for their encore, whether it’s board service or anything else. I can’t say enough good things about the people there,” Roedel said. “I don’t think there’s anybody else in Minneapolis that’s going to provide that kind of personalized and very specific coaching.”
She worked with founder Mary Kloehn, and Executive Consultants Patti O’Leary and Karen Grabow. Together, they crafted a winning board bio, which showcased the unique value proposition Roedel would offer a corporate board.
“Creating the board bio is so different than writing a resume,” Roedel noted. “I remember speaking to Patti O’Leary along the way, and she said, ‘Your board bio has to be strong enough to get you into the A pile.’ When a recruiter or a board looks at many potential candidates, you will get a conversation.”
For Roedel, that meant describing her strengths in different ways, with more emphasis on thought leadership and strategic counsel, compared to a traditional resume.
“And now that I’m on boards and we’re hiring, it’s very true,” she said. “It’s your calling card. It’s the most significant benefit I achieved with Navigate Forward.”
Cultivate a Strong Professional Network
Networking was another critical component. Roedel found two of her three board seats through professional networking and personal connections.
“The Jones Companies was a connection to the CEO, who served with me on the executive committee of the International Sleep Products Association board,” Roedel recalled.
“The second was Generac,” she continued. “I met with the former chairman of the board of Sleep Number, and he reached out to four or five colleagues. He asked them to actively find me a board seat. He’s the only person that ever did such a thing. And one of them did! That was quite astounding.”
While networking paid off, it was not a skill Roedel had used regularly during her full-time career.
Creating the board bio is so different than writing a resume.
“In my 33 years of work, I was one of the least accomplished networkers,” she said. “I never took the time to really cultivate a network and keep it living and breathing, so I had to learn how to do that.”
Navigate Forward helped her identify the right targets, and maximize both her time and theirs.
“The most impactful thing Mary [Kloehn] did was challenge me to have four high-quality networking meetings every week,” Roedel explained. “It was a tall order. But, she really helped me not waste time meeting people that would be interesting, but not likely to lead anywhere.”
Inspire the organization to greatness
In her own board work, Roedel brings public sector discipline, a customer-centric viewpoint and a strong network. Beyond the formal governance role, she believes the best board members help the organization to expand its vision, think differently and connect to new resources.
She explains: “[As a full-time executive] you’re driving the business all day, every day; sometimes, you get your head down too low and don’t step back enough to think differently about the business. That’s something great board members do for the company.”
With Generac, for example, Roedel is excited about helping the provider of home stand-by generators explore more environmentally friendly solutions to complement their traditional fossil fuel models. At Columbus McKinnon, a manufacturer of material handling products and services, such as hoists and cranes, she appreciates the opportunity to help the company’s new CEO shape his vision and long-range strategy.
I never took the time to really cultivate a network and keep it living and breathing, so I had to learn how to do that.
“Board members are in a unique position to inspire the leadership of a company to greatness,” Roedel said. “They do it in a variety of ways; it isn’t all about cheerleading. It can be in the form of challenging—stretching the group—and helping them understand a bigger vision than they may have set for themselves.”
Roedel’s board work has also involved guiding organizations through significant transitions. With the Jones Family of Companies, a textile manufacturer, she joined the company’s first independent board of directors, where she helped establish formal governance processes. They also hired a new CEO, which she describes as “an awesome responsibility” for the board.
Looking back, while she’s served for only a short time, Roedel is most proud of her work instilling best practices and being a resource.
“When you join a board, they’re looking for three areas: the strategic insights you offer to the full board, your functional specialty, and governance and risk management,” she stated. “For me, in all three areas, this practice of facilitating best-practice sharing and connections between companies, I’m proud of my impact in all three.”
Start Your Board Journey. Whether you’re ready to add value beyond your day job, or considering an encore career, we can help you achieve your goals. Learn more about our Board Readiness service.