5 Steps to consider before becoming a Non-Executive Director (NED)

The route to becoming a board director is not straight forward. Different people have found various paths. As a result, it would be foolish to give advice on this journey a la “one size fits all”.
There are some ground rules however, a foundation, that many NEDs we were privileged to get to know over the years, have found useful. 5 of the most common questions and considerations:

Why me? What do I bring to the table?
This “Why?” can be tricky for some. At the point of decision-making, you will have gathered so much experience in a variety of fields that the answer may not be straight forward. Helpful initial questions for self-reflection can be ‘What are the themes of my career?’ ‘When did I add most value?’ ‘What do I know that no-one else knows?’ ‘What do I not want to do or not get involved with?’
The last question has in fact led a number of people in our network to become board-advisors or independent professionals/experts. They realised that a lot of board work in the sector they knew best came with red tape, admin, governance, and a high personal (reputational) risk whereby their background was business development for example.
This is a starting point. As such the questions above should lead you to identify three key areas of expertise. The goal is to formulate a simple memorable introduction and identify suitable opportunities quicker.

What is your board experience – any?!
Have you been an executive board member? Where have you met a board? Where have you presented to boards? Where were you invited to speak in-front of a committee? Where have you chaired a cross-functional (project) team? When have you reported to investors or shareholders?
This does not produce a long list of examples? No problem. Rather than waiting for others, be proactive. Find a charity board. It is a fantastic training ground where people hugely appreciate commitment and expertise.

Questions. Toolkit. 
Non-executives have a particular purpose. They challenge, they oversee, they advise, they help, they monitor. Hence, they don’t (well they should not) get involved in day-to-day management, in policy making, in planning for example.
This purpose and the required mind-set that comes with it, often starts with the awareness that the individual questions need to be adapted. Those questions need to be about strategy, risk, leadership performance, and challenge around conventional wisdom, rather than “What are today’s sales numbers?”
Some spend years as executives consciously listening and learning from senior NEDs on their boards. Others sign up to various NED programmes, often facilitated by the professional services firms, the Institute of Directors, a guild such as the Worshipful Company of Insurers, Women on Boards, or the Financial Times. Finding the relevant path is key to make most of time and existing skills.

Network.
Knowing the right people always helps. No need for a large volume driven effort though. The number of networks out there is vast. The large law firms, the headhunters, the livery companies, the large publishers, training companies, and others independent board networks tailored to certain populations or sectors offer networking and development opportunities.
Speaking to peers, colleagues, and other sources, as well as attending a few different events, will help to find your preferred (and relevant!) platforms, programmes, and community.
Once (and usually rather quickly) you can compare and contrast and set individual priorities, balancing formal programmes, your existing network, and a targeted personal community growth effort.

Confidence. Head in the right space.
Some NEDs described how in the early stages of their transition into a portfolio career they were not 100% ready.
They all explained how it felt when “the penny dropped”. A feeling of ‘I have achieved what I wanted’ dominates or ‘more of the same’ is just not cutting it. For some that may be the result of a major success, for others a calm hour of reflection and the absence of any imposter syndrome. Aspiring to such a portfolio tends to deliver better outcomes than running away from a painful executive situation.

 

Long story short, becoming a Non-Executive Director hardly ever happens overnight. It is a longer journey than moving from one executive job to another. Hence, it takes time and preparation to make smart steps in the right direction.
Asking “Why?” raising self-awareness, learning, networking, and focus are high up on the personal growth and development agenda.
Not many come as a finished article into their first independent board role – some are just more confident (or prepared?!) than others.

#talent #insurance #leadership #NED #iNED #non-executive

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