What non-executive director role is right for you?

The right non executive director role

Deciding to pursue a board appointment can be pivotal – professionally and personally. With multiple sectors, industries and organisations to choose from, it can often be overwhelming to determine which company and associated board role will align best with your skills, experience, and interests – and, therefore, most likely to be appointed to. This article will explore the factors to consider when determining which non-executive director role is right for you. I start by asking you to find your inner Hedgehog.

Apply the Hedgehog Concept

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” It is reflected in a quote from Archilochus’s ancient Greek parable inspired by the hedgehog’s tenacity. The hedgehog and the fox differ. While the former may be sly and quick, the latter focuses on one task and sees it from idea to completion.

In his 2001 book Good to Great, business writer and consultant Jim Collins applies the hedgehog concept to the business setting. He suggests that the hedgehog concept is part of what differentiates good companies from great companies. Collins encourages organisations to use the tool to define their core values and then focus on a central goal. Where the three circles overlap should become that organisation’s central vision that supports the organisation’s strategy, not each circle in isolation.

HedgeHog Concept

Collins takes the hedgehog concept further, adapting it to individuals, and you, too, can apply it when determining what non-executive role is right for you. It doesn’t matter if you are considering your first or subsequent non-executive director role; you can use the model to pinpoint where you should put all your effort for a successful result.

To apply to the Hedgehog model to identify the right board role for you, consider the following:

1) What are you deeply passionate about?

    • Passion is everything when it comes to a board role.
    • Passion is reflected in what you love to do and your values, which get you out of bed daily.
    • Chairs are passionate about their board and the organisation; you must be too.
    • Even if you are appointed, it is unlikely that you will be a successful NED in that role if you lack passion.

2) What are your unique skills, or what are you genetically encoded for?

    • Collins discusses seeking things you are genetically encoded for over and above what you are good at—essentially, your God-given talent.
    • For most of us, think about your unique skill set and capabilities that hold you above others.
    • At a board or strategic level, what are you good at, and what is it you do that has resulted in positive outcomes for organisations?

3) What are your social or economic values or needs?

    • Consider what is driving you socially or economically to seek this board role.
    • Is contributing to a board something that will make you feel useful and socially valuable?
    • Do you need to get paid or compensated?

By applying the concept, you should then focus on the non-executive director’s roles that you identify where the three circles meet. These should be the right board role for you because there are the ones you are most likely to obtain and succeed in.

Additional points to consider when determining what non-executive director role is right for you

Do you need to be paid?

If you do, then the charity or not-for-profit space might be a distraction, with as few as ~15% of these organisations paying their board members. If you need to be paid, it might be best to focus elsewhere.

Where do you live?

For many boards and board chairs, the location of their board directors is still important, even with the availability of ZOOM and remote meetings. Traditional boards often prefer local candidates who are familiar with the organisation and the local community. Of course, there are exceptions. Some organisations intentionally seek non-executive directors in different locations for strategic reasons. Others may widen their search to find candidates with specific skills.

When considering a board role outside of your geographical location, you must be prepared to convincingly demonstrate to the board or panel why you are the best candidate, even over local candidates, and assure them that the distance will not hinder your effectiveness in the role.

What types of board opportunities are currently available?

Take some time to research, based on your preference and location, what types of board or committee roles are available. Some entities require a board of directors with independent directors, while others have executive committees or advisory groups instead.

How important are your connections?

Your professional or personal connections hold significant value to many boards. In fact, for some boards, this can be the most valuable thing you contribute. Take the time to evaluate your contact list and consider which organisations may benefit from access to your contacts. Your connections could be the differentiating factor in a competitive board appointment process.

How much time can you dedicate to a non-executive director’s role?

Joining a board can be enriching in many ways but also trying and time-consuming. When considering a board role, think of the time commitment. Advertised roles often state meeting expectations; however, you must also consider travel, meeting preparation, providing advice, emergency meetings, skill enhancement (like governance training), and representing the organisation at social events.

You also need to look at the longer time commitment of tenure. Since most boards meet only a handful of times yearly, you must commit to at least a 2-3 year tenure to succeed in the role. Failing to commit to the entire tenure, meetings, and other duties will not reflect well on your performance and board career.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how competitive are you?

Obtaining a non-executive director role is competitive due to the limited opportunities and the high number of applicants. So you must ask yourself if you are ready for the competitive process. And recognise that some roles will be more competitive than others.

In addition, you need to be prepared for rejection, seek feedback and remain resilient. Know your board value position, and choose realistically attainable board roles.

Proceed to the next stage

Choosing the right non-executive role to pursue is challenging. Choosing the wrong board roles and organisations may well affect your executive and non-executive future. It is essential to go through the due process and research to ensure you pursue the board roles that are right for you. You then need to prepare a clearly defined board profile and pitch. Remember that it is a competitive process that requires resilience and perseverance. In our Executive Membership, my training will guide you through every step of this process and provide the support you need to implement it.

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About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world.

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