The hard and soft skills of successful non-executive directors
When applying for board positions, non-executive directors are expected to bring strategic and leadership skills to the table. In today’s challenging business climate, soft skills are also in high demand.
Having a wealth of experience to bring to a non-executive board position is a clear advantage. Application processes for board roles are competitive, and the time to put your case forward is limited.
So, how do you prepare yourself when applying for non-executive directorships?
Juliet Taylor, CEO of board recruiters Starfish Search, says, “Understand what the gap is that the organisation is trying to fill and make sure you are clear and confident about what you can offer.”
What is your signature skill?
Across the globe, companies are experiencing extensive regulatory, technological and financial challenges. Managing business through these challenges requires highly-skilled and experienced board directors.
“Most boards look for: knowledge, governance expertise, networks, and connection with audiences,” says Taylor.
“You don’t have to bring all four things, though, so [ask yourself] what’s your signature contribution?”
You can make a difference.
Highly valued non-executive directors are well-versed in emotional intelligence – they can quickly grasp other people’s characteristics and agendas.
“Understanding the nuance of board roles is also important,” says Taylor. “Consider where the organisation is trying to get to and what you can bring to the party.
“We are seeing more and more people from all sectors looking for more purposeful ways of using their skills and who want to make a positive contribution to society.
“Always remember: this is your time, so don’t forget to tell the organisation what the role would give you in return.”
What professional disciplines, or hard skills, are currently in demand on UK boards?
“The pandemic recovery period means that effective non-executive leaders are in demand more than ever before,” says Taylor.
“We are seeing increasing numbers of non-executive board members being sought for organisations who need to rebuild or refocus their strategy.
“We have seen a strong trend in boards looking for people with digital expertise and backgrounds in customer service and organisational or cultural change.
Those with financial skills and profit-making skills are now high in demand.
“People who can help increase income or support financial management are also towards the top of the list, as are people who can bring insight into, and connection with, customers and audiences.
However, it isn’t all about increasing the bottom line and opening the right doors.
“One of the shifts we are seeing is a marked move away from focusing too much on professional disciplines. Organisations in all sectors are much more aware of their diversity now than they were before 2020. Creating strong, versatile and authentically diverse teams is now a consistent theme.”
What soft skills are in demand?
An effective board member is hard to define, mainly due to their soft skills, such as the ability to listen and knowing when to speak.
“It’s hard to tell a great non-executive on paper because so much of the role is about how people operate and not what they have done,” says Taylor.
“Great board members are people who understand how to deploy their expertise in a way that has an impact in a non-executive board setting.”
Self-awareness is a powerful skill
“The skills that make the difference are the capacity for self-reflection, so people with insight and self-awareness, also diplomacy and listening skills,” says Taylor.
“Increasingly, people are being expected to bring all their experiences into the board room, not just their professional accomplishments. Sound judgement is key to doing this well and to understand how you can add value.”
When it comes to the interview
This is your time to reflect and prepare. The role you are applying for needs to be fulfilling and worthwhile for you as well.
Be clear. Tell the organisation what you can bring to the table to help it reach its goals and why it matters to you.
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