What skills do you need to be a successful board director in today’s agile environment? Some skills such as leadership and communication almost go without saying, being intrinsic elements of a lifelong learning commitment which leads towards a position of responsibility.
However, there are other skills which are equally important but perhaps do not receive the attention which they deserve. The recent Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) report into Thomas Cook has highlighted some of these areas. In their wide ranging report they comment that directors are required to balance objectives which can seem contradictory including “being entrepreneurial whilst exercising prudence; being familiar with and answerable for the company’s workings whilst being able to stand-back and retain an objective view; and being sensitive to short-term pressures whilst taking accounting of broader, long-term trends.”
Those examples, taken together with other comments within the BEIS report about the need for challenge and the avoidance of ‘group think,’ serve to highlight a suite of additional training needs for board directors. Let’s start with the dangers which can arise from a lack of challenge within the board room.
Now you may say that surely challenge and robust discussion form part of communication training. However, in far too many instances communication training looks at areas such as presentation and social media skills, helping individuals to communicate with stakeholders and others or to generate engagement with the strategy of the organisation. It’s true that teambuilding skills may include training in shared communications, learning to listen and to communicate in order to advance a project.
But these skills are very much those of collaboration and consensus. Being prepared to challenge assumptions, to question and to delve requires a different type of communication skill; one which promotes questioning and self-expression within the context of a strong working relationship.
Then there are those other skills mentioned above; the ability to be entrepreneurial yet prudent, to be detailed yet broadly objective, and to be equally cognisant of short and long term issues. These traits require a range of skills from questioning to planning and from targeted focus to problem solving. Along the way risk management and innovation skills training will help leaders to ensure that they are best placed to deliver long term results.
Even with all of that extra skills training there is one other area which board directors neglect at their peril. Directors have legal responsibilities in a range of areas from the timely delivery of statutory returns to data protection and promoting the success of the organisation. I didn’t know is no excuse in law and therefore the importance of undertaking training in the rights and responsibilities of directorships cannot be overstated.
What does it take to be a board director? BEIS commented that “the more similar that individual directors think, act, and look, the more likely it is that they are not going to challenge each other, or innovate, or think imaginatively.” Perhaps it is time for a fresh look at how we train our directors to effectively fulfil their role.
Director of Elemental CoSec, a company secretarial firm. Lawyer. Triathlete.
Elemental is one of the leading corporate services firms in the UK, providing company secretarial services, administrative services, accountancy services and corporate services to a full range of clients.