By Paul Dubal, Governance Coach
Achieving a non-executive board director position is a huge achievement of which you can be justifiably proud. The benefit to your career and personal reputation is unparalleled. It is an endorsement of your status and leadership qualities. However, far too many times I have experienced new directors who, once having achieved their dream position, are closed to continuing learning opportunities. Becoming a director is not the end of your learning journey; it is the start of it. You have not reached the summit, you are merely in the foothills, and there is plenty of work to be done.
The best directors I have been fortunate enough to work with have been those that have opened themselves up to the endless learning possibilities from being in a position of leadership at the helm of the organization. They understood that the decisions they made impacted the direction of the organization and the lives of its various stakeholders at a fundamental level. They understood that it was a huge commitment of trust in their abilities, which brought a heavy responsibility. Whilst they brought a degree of expertise, experience, and knowledge, often in unique ways, they also appreciated that this was not enough for them to fulfil their legal and fiduciary duty. They were receptive to continuing professional development and learning. They adopted the mindset of being students once again.
What Should I Learn?
I am a strong advocate of continuous learning for the directors I work with. This learning comes in several parts:
Learning about the organization and its industry. Asking the right questions and doing your homework is essential. The executive team live and breathe the organization and know it intimately. As a non-executive director, you need to understand the organization, its strategy and risk profile, its products and services, its culture and reputation. You need to be armed with a suite of the right questions to ask to gain that knowledge, but you cannot confine those questions to within the organization. You need to be scanning the rapidly changing external environment. What are our competitors doing? What is coming down the tracks and what may impact the organization in the weeks, months, and years to come? What are the emerging risks, and equally what are the business opportunities? You need a healthy appreciation of where the organization sits within the wider environment and the pressures that may shape its future.
Learning about your unique specialist area of expertise. Why were you brought onto the board? What is the unique skill set that marks you as a valuable contribute to the board? Are you a digital marketing expert, a technology expert skilled in cyber-defence, a finance or strategy guru? In most specialist fields, the pace of change and development is dynamic and progressive, particularly in the technology sector. Keeping up to date is critical if you are to add value to your board, especially when they look to you to provide input on your specialism. Keep reading, keep networking, and keep learning so that you are at the cutting edge of your field.
Learning about yourself. The area of self-development is one of the most critical and often underrated attributes to becoming an effective director. Development in this area will ensure that your leadership skills are refined and adapted to a board oversight role, a discipline that requires a different approach to operational management leadership, and one I have found that new directors often find difficulty in adapting to. The range of ‘soft’ skills and attributes to learn is extensive and can make the difference between a cultural fit, in which you enjoy and gain significant value from the role, or whether you crash and burn. This is why I recommend that you undertake an honest self-inventory of your strengths and weaknesses by conducting an EQ-I self-assessment. At The Governance Boutique, experts in getting you board ready, we can provide individual coaching and guidance specifically geared to your needs, to help you cultivate an approach that supports inclusive and diverse decision-making, continuous learning and enhancing your board performance.