How do you go from the classroom to the board room?

(Leadership, Experience, Passion.)

In the world of non-profit organizations, career professionals, and other lines of work you will find amazing leaders and people who absolutely change the world with their daily actions.

So how do you become one of them?

  1. High School (The Classroom)

I’ve thought about my time in high school and being on a Board of Directors was not something I even considered possible. My main focus was on athletics and getting “good enough” grades so my parents, teachers, and coaches would leave me alone about academics so I could focus on athletics.

During high school I was the captain on both the cross country and the track team. It was my greatest honor and achievement. I felt like my coaches and teammates saw me as a “leader.”

For me, this was my first step in the direction towards the Board Room. Board members come from all different backgrounds and they all have a different story of how they arrived in their position. However, there is one VERY distinct characteristic of all of them: LEADERSHIP.

Class Room to Board Room High School Mission:


  1. College (The Bridge)

My college experience was completely the OPPOSITE of what I thought it would be. However, the LEADERSHIP characteristics and qualities I developed in high school helped me get through some of the most depressing, disappointing, and pessimistic moments of my life.

I arrived for pre-season camp for cross country and immediately found that I wasn’t the “leader” anymore. I had to completely start over. I was “nobody” again. To make matters worse, as the season progressed I began to aggravate old high school injuries that were now keeping me from the one and only thing I cared about, athletics. I was lost.

On the bus ride back from our last track meet the spring of my Freshman year, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to join Undergraduate Student Government (USG). Until that moment I had no idea what USG even did. However, my plagued athletic career seemed to be on the fast track to nowhere and would end up staying that way most of my college career. Although athletics didn’t work out for me, USG got me involved in different leadership activates that I would have never even got involved in if it wasn’t for my athletic setbacks.

I ended up becoming President of USG for 2 years, an Editor and Columnist for the college newspaper, graduating with honors, achieving the “Who’s Who Award,” and being inducted into the National Catholic Graduate Honors Society (Kappa Gamma Pi).

This was my second step towards the Board Room: EXPERIENCE.

Class Room to Board Room College Mission:


  1. Career (The Young Professional Board Room)

“Young Professional” is a very common description of young adults entering the workforce. However, this was not something that was around 10-15 years ago. If it was, it wasn’t mainstream.

I arrived at graduation a scared, frightened, and overwhelmed “young professional.” I was once again, lost. Lost to the point where I didn’t even know where to begin. Where were the companies who were supposed to be calling me with job opportunities???? I had a great resume! What gives???

I’ve never felt so alone and so disappointed in myself. Where was this “dream job” I had been working so hard for in college?

The reality was I again had to completely START OVER. I was nobody once more, but this time with a student loan payment beginning in 6 months.

I was very fortunate to find a career opportunity with a local company. I knew nothing about their products, their process, or even if it was something  I could succeed at. However, I knew from my high school leadership and my college experience I stood a chance to be successful.

In the beginning I almost quit. I was about to walk out the door after I had my first taste of rejection from the world of business. I was broken. High school and college seemed so easy compared to the career world. No one cared who I was. No one cared what I had accomplished before. I remember looking in the mirror and asking myself, “What are you doing with your life??!!”

It took time for me to truly understand what the career world and being a “Young Professional” was all about. The reality is that it’s not about finding a good career opportunity, it is about finding your PASSION, your HEART’S MISSION.

It sounds cheesy; however, every successful young professional will tell you, “I found my passion…I found something I believe in…etc.”

Your final step to getting from the Class Room to the Board Room is this:

A) VOLUNTEER for something that is NOT work to you. Something that you are genuinely passionate about. Ask yourself, “If I won the lottery and didn’t have to work, what would I do with my time?”

B) Join a COMMITTEE. If you are genuine and building relationships with your volunteering you will soon have people asking you to join a committee and if for some mysterious reason they do not ask you, ask how you can help out one of the non-profits, etc. committees.

C) Once you have proven your genuine care to help and competence to lead you will be asked to join the board and again if you are not, ask someone how you can become a part of the board. If you are truly following your passion and using your experience and leadership skills they will want and need you on their Board of Directors.

In closing, I realize this all might seem quite simple. The reality is that it is if you know what steps to take. Actively harness your leadership skills. Seek out personal and professional experiences to prepare you for the career world. Last, but not least, follow your heart. LEAD FROM THE HEART!

Reach out to your local leaders and ask them for help. Ask them to help you if you feel lost like I did. They won’t let you down.

Good luck my fellow leaders and I am excited to hear your story one day of how you went from the Classroom to the Board Room.

– ibbjames