Serving on a board will make you a better leader

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It’s one thing to develop a strategic plan, and it’s another thing entirely to persuade people of its merit. How do you influence your fellow directors and the chief executive to agree to your plan? You do this by being prepared, confident, and persuading each stakeholder one-on-one.

For starters, you need to come prepared with data. A well-laid plan is useless if you don’t have numbers to back it up. Anticipate the questions that you’ll encounter, and be prepared to defend your pitch with facts-not emotions, gut feelings, or anecdotes.

You need to be confident in your pitch. Confidence comes from preparation, and understanding the motivations of your fellow directors / chief executive. It helps to know the history of the organization-its strengths, weaknesses, failures, and successes. The more information you can arm yourself with, the more confident you’ll feel when you make your case.

You need to lay out logical, persuasive arguments in your one-on-one conversations with each stakeholder. Discussing the plan on an individual basis gives the other person an opportunity to voice their concerns, shows that person that you value their input, and will help fine-tune your pitch for the next stakeholder.

When you bring everyone together for a vote, you’ll already know the outcome. Your preparation, confidence, and persuasive arguments will have won over every director and the chief executive. The ensuring vote will be merely a formality.

One of the biggest challenges my organization faces is a general lack of awareness about narcolepsy. According to a recent study, 83% of Americans have heard of narcolepsy, but don’t know anything about it. This has created an environment where patients go 10–15 years between onset of symptoms and diagnosis, and only about 25% are ever even diagnosed.

There is a huge opportunity here. I believe we can improve these numbers significantly by turning as many patients as we can into advocates. Here is the argument I laid out to each individual director:

Our organization can have a measurable impact on improving these numbers, by expanding our youth advocacy program to include as many adults as possible. People connect with stories, and that’s what advocates do best-tell compelling stories. Our goal will be to bring time to diagnosis down to 5 years, with 50% of patients diagnosed. After speaking with the chair of our program, it is clear that we will need to hire additional staff to make this happen. What do you think?

By pitching this to each stakeholder on an individual basis, I was able to sound out their feelings on the idea, address any concerns they had, and refine my pitch for the next person. The effort culminated in a robust discussion at our annual in-person meeting, and a strategic plan that will unfold over the next few years.

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