Stars: They’re Just Like Us (But On Boards)

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

This article was written by Olga Mack and Katia Bloom, originally published on Above the Law.

Champion athlete and tennis icon Serena Williams recently added a new title to her long list of accomplishments: the newest member of SurveyMonkey’s board. Though, like lawyers, she may not fit the current board service mold, her work as an athlete, entrepreneur, activist and brand builder are all great assets for board service. Here are some Williams-inspired tips for lawyers who want to become board directors.

  • Strong Record of Achievements. Serena Williams is best known as an iconic tennis athlete, and that reputation is backed by a wealth of achievements. While winning a Grand Slam is not in the cards for most lawyers who want to become directors, emulating her reputation-building success can, indeed, be replicated. A prospective director should invest time determining how to tell their own career story. They should portray a long, deep, and well-documented history of consistently performing, exceeding, and doing the impossible in their area of expertise.


  • Strategic Business Acumen. To describe Serena Williams as merely an athlete is an understatement. She has had numerous successful business adventures and collaborations that demonstrate her business influence. Similarly, prospective directors should create a clear record of business acumen and influence in their board-related papers and board interviews. Even if a prospective director has previously held fewer strictly business roles, it is important to think deeply about any business skills utilized in those roles. For example, a GC can avoid being seen as just a legal advisor by highlighting ways she has impacted her company’s business strategy.


  • Influence and Versatility. Williams is also known for her forays into the fashion industry. After Williams released her HSN Signature Statement collection, Vogue magazine named her a “Fashion Trendsetter.” Clearly, Williams has been able to influence not only the world of tennis, but also the seemingly unrelated fashion world. The ability to shape an industry’s direction and community offers valuable insights and diverse perspective to any board. Williams also shows remarkable versatility — she can connect with both HSN audiences and high-fashion Vogue editors. In considering a board path, a prospective director should look for ways they have exhibited influence and versatility, both in their immediate industry and others. For example, all business professionals can focus on their efforts and connections within their industry, risk, crisis management, expansion execution, innovation, and numerous other board skills.


  • Positive Reputation, Goodwill, and Image. Williams is also a dedicated philanthropist. According to SurveyMonkey’s website, “Serena started the Serena Williams Fund, is a global Goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, and in the fall of 2016, she joined philanthropic forces with her sister Venus to establish the Williams Sister Fund where they launched their first endeavor in their hometown of Compton: the Yetunde Price Resource Center.” Serena Williams’s reputation, even beyond her athletic achievements, is overwhelmingly positive. And this positive association absolutely enhances her reputation and the reputation of the company where she serves. Similarly, a prospective board member should consider what positive or well-recognized experiences they bring to the board. The ability to enhance a company’s reputation on day one, by presence and association alone, will absolutely enhance your chances of being selected.


  • World-Wide Leadership. Williams is also focused on influencing the world in a positive way. In February 2016, she partnered with the Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation to build a school in Jamaica. She has also funded and opened two schools in Africa. Serena Williams has demonstrated the ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute not only within their own organizations, but also outside of the U.S. In other words, she is a world-wide leader. Demonstrating this type of leadership track record is critical for any prospective director. This means not only holding leadership positions, but also demonstrating true leadership skills. You need to demonstrate that you are a wise leader who can make decisions by involving the right people, at the right time, in the right way. Wise leaders also develop and use processes that keep people engaged and on track. Skilled leaders also recognize the power of shared decision-making and are able to fluently overcome ineffective decision-making. Proving these skills will elevate your board chances by showing that you are more than just a leader in title alone.

From her early success on the tennis court to her recent appointment to the SurveyMonkey boardroom, Serena Williams has demonstrated essential skills that all prospective directors should emulate. By focusing on how to portray a history of achievement, strategic business acumen, versatile influence, positive reputation, and world-wide leadership, prospective directors can make significant profess toward their own career Grand Slams.