Although nomination committees are more open to first-time directors, want new skills to add to existing competencies and are taking steps to be more diverse; few will compromise on someone who cannot get up to speed quickly.

For the aspiring director, this means a careful rethink of which capabilities align with your target boards, how to present them and why they are relevant.

Every potential non-executive director comes with some gaps. Every board is different. There is no such thing as the universal, perfect candidate.

In my board coaching sessions and workshops on stronger board applications we examine why a board application may not make it to the short list. We discuss the why, how and what of director capability. Here is a snapshot of those discussions:



Given you have already taken steps to ensure there are no basic ‘discard triggers’ in the Board CV, application content or interview plan – and you are realistic with your list of target boards – here are some of the things you can do to neutralize a gap:

1.    If you are not from the same industry, then emphasise experiences with similar types of customers, supply chain management issues, business models, competitor challenges, geographic reach, regulatory demands, transformation programs or market disruption

2.    Provide examples of how you have dealt with the types of systemic issues or strategic choices needed for an organisation at the same life cycle stage and how you can steer it around the next few corners as the business keeps developing, diversifying, prioritising or refocusing

3.    Stress the ‘how’ of your decision-making. Describe differing situations where critical thinking, judgment, questioning and insight has been drawn on to address complex or difficult situations within a business planning session, executive committee; or high-level group problem-solving situations

4.    Highlight the expertise you have in an area important to the organisation and how that brings a level of expertise to the matters likely to be raised on sub-committee or board agendas

5. Know how to identify and discuss your domain strengths and boardroom style in a way that is material, relevant and solutions focussed

6.    Articulate how influence has been applied, rather than authority, to manage the interests of different stakeholders or to resolve tensions across systems, organisation silos or groups

7.    Clarify the impact of results and outcomes achieved, selecting those that link to the board’s pressure points

8. Boards deal with ambiguity and complexity. Be prepared to discuss how you have dealt with uncertainty or alternative scenarios or having to navigate variable strategic choices.

While it is true that the combined board is stronger than any one individual, it is the specific and distinct expertise that each person brings that underpins the board’s capability.

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