Corporate roles develop high-level transferable skills for the boardroom: strategy, analysis, planning, risk, managing constant change, cross-silo cooperation; knowledge of finance and the levers to drive performance. Then there are the skills attached to a technical role such as: business manager, lawyer, accountant, marketer or consultant.

Each executive aspiring to be a non-executive director needs to be able to transition from individual authority to targeted influencing and from management control to balanced oversight.

Targeted Influence

A board is a high-performance, synergistic entity with shared authority and collective accountability. As discussed in ‘Aspiring Directors Can Draw the Line’ it is a delicate dynamic. The combined board is stronger than any one individual, yet it relies on the expertise that each person brings. Collaboration can only exist when interpersonal skills, self-awareness and competing tensions are aligned.

Groupthink is one of the unintended consequences of a collegiate board. A good director has courage and resilience drawing on their ‘true north.’ They know how to be strong and persuasive but not dominant, strategic yet across the details, be a member of an engaged-team without compromising independence. The art and skill is in getting this balance right. They have to ask challenging questions, even difficult ones, but ask them in a constructive way, choosing their battles and letting go of the unimportant.

Given what is at stake, trust and integrity are sacrosanct. This means consistency between what a director says, writes and does. Critical relationships are the chair with the CEO, the CEO with the board, and director with director, especially the chair. Engaging in robust debate relies on respect and awareness that intellectual conflict is not interpersonal conflict. While self-interest is best put aside, what is to the fore is candour and reliability during decision-making, then solidarity once the board has taken the decision, but not forgetting the director’s own role.

Balanced Oversight

While the role of governance and the role of management differ, neither detachment by directors at one end of the spectrum nor micro-management by directors at the other is ideal. If one of the roles of the board is to do for the business what it cannot do for itself, the degree of the board’s involvement should match the current critical issues or life-cycle of the business.

The level of engagement between the CEO and the board has to be a constructive partnership. It is the interplay of their separate accountabilities, capabilities, experiences and viewpoints that creates the value.

Boards are paying greater attention to risk, talent management, technology, global outlook and longer-term views. Directors who are out of touch or resistant to change or lack the mental agility won’t be able to steer the board or the organisation through the transition.

Becoming a good director is a personal responsibility, based on thinking seriously about what you bring to the boardroom and will continue to develop. Aspiring directors should also think carefully if these skills and behaviours are reflected in their board resume.

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About the author: Dianne Jacobs


Dianne Jacobs of The Talent Advisors, Melbourne, guides and informs businesses, executives, partners and aspiring directors aiming for the next level.

Website: http://www.thetalentadvisors.com/