February 2018

A seat at the board table

  • By Melissa Gilmour, Australian Institute of Company Directors

Becoming a non-executive director is an increasingly common ambition for professionals, but it is important to understand the responsibilities of the role

For resources professionals, being a director can be a powerful way to enhance and develop your leadership capabilities. Aspiring directors looking for a seat at the board-table – whether it be part-time alongside their careers in management or technical leadership, or those looking to make the transition to full-time director – face serious competition from other like-minded, ambitious individuals.

Not only is becoming a non-executive director an increasingly common ambition, it is also a role that is becoming increasingly complex and demanding. More is being asked of today’s directors than ever before.

Corporate governance is no longer considered an administrative ‘box-ticking’ and compliance-focused exercise. Today, in addition to the regulatory demands placed on organisations, boards are expected to bring leadership qualities that enable and empower business performance.

Developing your director brand

While there is no single model of a successful director – each director brings a unique combination of skills and experience to every board scenario – a common characteristic of successful and experienced directors is a strong individual brand.

Your individual director brand is your skill set, your experience, your strategic networks, the quality of your training and credentials, your interests and passions and your values. Developing a strong director brand involves taking a holistic approach with your professional development and is key to landing a director position.

Beginning the search

There are three important things to understand in preparation for your directorship role.

1. The difference between the roles of executive and non-executive director

A director is not a manager and a board is not a management team. The role of a director and the board is to offer strategic direction for the organisation and to hold the organisation’s executive to account. The role of a director is not an ‘operational’ one. Boards offer counsel and advice to management, and oversight through monitoring and evaluation.

2. What it means to find the right fit

Think about your experience, your interests and your values. Is there an industry or a particular organisation where you aspire to work? Resources professionals may look to develop their knowledge by sitting on a board for a company within the industry; or alternatively, you may seek an opportunity outside resources to broaden your horizons. Conversely, can you identify industries and organisations with which you would not want to be associated? Finding a board position that aligns with your personal director brand is much more than the skills and experience you bring to the board table.

3. Finding a board position takes time – be prepared to start small

Landing your first position as a director in an ASX 50 company is near impossible. It is important to start with realistic expectations and to set realistic goals. Many directors suggest starting on the board of a not-for-profit or community organisation as one way to gain valuable experience. However, this should not be treated as just a stepping-stone – being a director of any organisation, large or small, is a professional commitment that should also align with your values.

Developing your director skill set

Your skills are an essential part of your director brand. Each director will bring a unique combination of skills and experience to each board role. Director skills can be split between job-specific skills and knowledge, and the personal attributes you bring to a role. Developing and maintaining your director skill set can be a juggling act between non-negotiable skills needed to complete director duties properly (eg finance, governance and strategy) with those that make you a competent and effective leader and team player (eg good judgement, good communication skills, integrity and honesty).

These different skills can be learnt and refined over time, either through industry experience or an investment in continuous education and training such as the AICD’s Company Directors Course. A successful director has the ability to apply these skills, backed by their experience, in a variety of boardroom scenarios.

Establishing your online presence

Social media is a powerful tool. Used appropriately, social media can provide career opportunities, public recognition, connections and a forum to discuss ideas with peers and wider networks in a seamless, organic way.

For those looking to assert their director brand online, the opportunities are vast. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging and YouTube all offer different ways of engaging with different audiences and with vastly different effects.

Nurturing your strategic networks

Your networks play an essential role in getting you a seat at a board table. At the stage of your career when you are considering a board position, you should have well-established networks, cultivated through work and industry experience. These networks may be useful in obtaining a future board position. However, chances are that your networks lack the influence of experienced directors, whose careers you wish to emulate. Aspiring directors should be looking to fill these gaps.

Creating a director resume

A director resume is an important tool for aspiring and experienced directors in marketing their director brand. The ideal resume should do all the hard work for you – it should sell you, your experience, skills and what you will offer to a board on paper. An excellent resume will get you noticed by the recruiter, chair of the board and the nominations committee and land you an interview.

For aspiring directors responding to a specific board position advertisement, it is important to understand what the board is looking for and what you can contribute. Research the current board composition and see if there are any gaps in skillset and experience of the current board directors. Clearly articulate how you can fill existing gaps.

For those submitting a generic resume to a board recruitment firm, ensure that it covers your knowledge and experience of the essential director-specific skills and qualities. If this initial resume is strong, a recruiter will work with you to refine the final product.

Preparing for your director interview

The interview is one of the final hurdles an aspiring director must clear before landing a board position. The specifics of each interview will often differ with circumstance. Some interviews may be informal, while others may be more rigorous with multiple rounds and targeted questions using a series of prepared behavioural techniques and scenarios. Regardless of how it may unfold, the interview is critical in determining the suitability and compatibility of the candidate to the board and the wider company and vice versa. It goes beyond what can be found out about you online or through your resume. Therefore, it is important to be personable, relatable, clear and natural.

Doing your due diligence

Accepting a role as a director is a significant commitment. Each role comes with its own responsibilities, risks and personal liabilities. No organisation or its board is immune to challenges, so it is important for prospective directors to know what to expect. If you have been offered a position on a board it is critical to take the time to delve deeper into the organisation. This differs from the preliminary research conducted at the time of submitting your resume or attending an interview. It involves asking questions about publicly available information and asking questions of people within the organisation and your own networks. In order to accept, you must be satisfied with the responses.

 


The Australian Institute of Company Directors

The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) is committed to excellence in governance. We make a positive impact on society and the economy through governance education, director development and advocacy.

With a diverse membership of more than 41 000 leaders from industry, commerce, government, the professions, private and not-for-profit sectors, the AICD is the largest director institute in the world. Membership represents a commitment to excellence in governance and is a powerful investment in professional development.

Over the past seven years, the AICD has launched several initiatives aimed at achieving greater diversity on Australian boards and fostering emerging female directors, including a number of initiatives targeted at the resources sector. In Western Australia, the Director Pipeline Project (DPP) now in its seventh consecutive year, delivers a series of events, workshops and education that supports senior professional women to expand their networks, build their skills and provide the opportunity to raise their profile within the director community. The AICD and AusIMM have partnered to offer three places for AusIMM members to participate in the DPP program in 2018. The members are: Catherine Galli, Sophie Hancock and Sarah Greer.

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