4 Essential Qualities of a Non-Executive Director

Discover the most commonly demanded attributes that organisations look for when hiring a non-executive director to their board.

11-07-2019

Non-Executive

Do you hold the qualities that are required? We previously published a blog post identifying the essential qualities of a non-executive director (known as independent directors in the US) but in this piece we take a different approach through researching non-executive job specifications to discover the most commonly mentioned and desired attributes from organisations. For an independent director role, there are standout recurring qualities that you should identify yourself with in order to build your portfolio career. 

Independent

It is necessary to remain independent in order to achieve objectivity. As a non-executive director, you are required to be engaged with the business activities and industry, whilst taking an independent stance in order to successfully analyse strategy and plans and deliver constructive feedback and guidance.

Knowledge acquired from previous executive experience, and from additional independent positions, will prove extremely useful when transitioning to the boardroom as a NED as their core objective is to draw upon their previous experiences and knowledge to propel the business to success.. Although, what works for one business, may not be the best approach for another. This level of attachment to previous experience should be managed so that objectivity is attained. 

Whilst independence is essential, a non-executive director must be able to make the right decisions collectively with other members of the board. You will join a team with an existing relationship and structure, who each have different characteristics and behaviours. Having an effective balance between the board heightens productivity, which is why when recruiting an independent director, companies will assess how well candidates can work alongside the existing board members. 

Challenging 

The UK Corporate Governance Code states that independent directors “should provide constructive challenge” when approaching business strategy and direction. Providing constructive criticism is a key aspect of an independent role, which must be done without coming across as offensive or undermining the ideas of others. An effective critique should offer practical evaluation and insight to produce both challenging and supportive comments which raise further questions on the proposed strategy.

It’s important to remember that independent directors hold the same liabilities as full-time executives on a board. Therefore, it is vital that you have the willingness to challenge opinions and behaviours that could have a long term detrimental impact on the business. Listening to the opinions of fellow board representatives, taking detailed notes, staying up-to-date on governance and frequently reviewing board papers will ensure you can share valuable insights, offer clear guidance and constructive comments at every board meeting. 

Innovative 

An independent director cannot be governed by strategies that have resolved issues in the past. To produce and advise on an innovative strategy, the independent director must have an ambition to drive the business forward, thinking of the future as well as the present. 

Your appointment to a board will be successful if you can offer unique input, which is why you will be assessed on your personal qualities and experience, as well as the general attributes associated with an independent role. You must communicate your personal brand through applications and interviews to prove that you hold an innovative mindset that can provide the business access to unchartered territory within their industry. 

The business environment has become increasingly dynamic, which is why those who can think in an unconventional, modern way are in demand to reduce reliance on solutions that have worked previously. An awareness of technology and digital solutions is becoming extremely useful in the boardroom as firms look to accelerate their growth, stay ahead of competition and propel their business to the next level.

Financial Acumen 

The role requires a strategic view towards data as well as the ability to process it. An independent director can provide critical thinking, objective strategic input and various industry experiences to a board, but ultimately, the independent director must also understand financial reports and evaluate board papers to have a full view of the company’s situation.

It is by no means essential that you have a comprehensive background in finance, but you will be expected to have an analytical mindset and numeracy skills to understand debt and finance issues. Demonstrating that you have the patience and persistence to frequently analyse papers and identify potential errors at your interview will certainly be deemed valuable by the board.    

The In Touch platform is dedicated to helping professionals transition to the next stage in their careers. We offer acclaimed training and development to ensure you have the confidence, mindset and knowledge to enter the boardroom as a non-executive director. Learn more about our membership packages here. 

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