• Friday, June 21, 2024
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The high impact director: Key attributes


It is acknowledged that the office of a Director is a “high calling”. It is oftentimes challenging and requires of the individual certain attributes to achieve effectiveness. Whilst each Board has its own peculiarities, being possessed of these attributes will enable the Director to perform optimally and contribute to Board effectiveness. These include the following:

Strong interpersonal and communications skills: These key attributes are relevant in and out of the Boardroom. An effective Director should be able to relate well with his/her peers, be approachable and communicate clearly. Striking an appropriate balance between talking too much and too little at Board meetings is also critical to achieving effectiveness. An effective Director will be able to clearly articulate the key issues and provide critical insight. He/she will speak to the issues before the Board rather than “attack” the persons involved.

Furthermore, whilst Executive Directors are required to engage with third parties as part of their day job, Non-Executive Directors will occasionally have to represent the company at meetings and in discussions with third parties including the media. Thus, the ability to clearly articulate the Company’s position even at short notice is desirable. Actively listening which is an integral component of communication is also a skill the high impact Director should have.

Independent judgment: Managers are expected to be “team-players” and sometimes get knocked when they criticise a decision made by their peers or superiors. However, the Director’s role (whether as an Executive or Non-Executive) is to take a step back and critically assess the motivation and consequences of a decision, and where necessary, put forward a reasoned view – even if it is unpopular. A Director is expected to apply independent judgement to all matters before the Board. This requires the Director to put the overall interest of the Company at the fore. Directors for the most part, find themselves being swayed by narrow or short-term considerations when faced with certain decisions. An independent mind-set will enable the Director to take a stand when he/she is of the view that the company’s long term future is not being prioritised, no matter the consequences. Many people have said that this virtue is aspirational. Perhaps so, but it is certainly attainable and will set aside the high impact Director from the rest of the pack.

Analytical mind-set: Directors are often presented with problems that have a number of potential solutions, and the ability to analyse, sift through data and make sense of it to find the appropriate solution is an invaluable personal trait. A Director should ask the right questions to elicit responses that will help the Board make sense of matters for consideration.

Not sweating the small things: Strategic thinking is a key attribute of an effective Director as Directors are not expected to waste time and effort on the small stuff. Sometimes in a bid to demonstrate their competence and area of expertise – or simply show off – they tend to distract the Board’s attention and dwell on less critical issues. The ability to stay focused on those matters strictly within the Board’s purview is a desirable attribute. For Non-Executive Directors, this also means respecting the professional and technical competencies of the Executive Directors and not seeking to micro-manage. Maintaining the right balance between meddling and oversight is essential.

Staying power: Companies are bound to face pressure from regulators, short-term focused shareholders, the media and competition, particularly during periods of perceived poor performance, or significant structural changes. Many Directors have had to deal with pressure of more frequent meetings and other Board related activities since the onset of the global pandemic. An effective Director should have the strength of character to stay calm in the face of pressure to provide the much needed stability to the Board and the Company.

Respect for alternative viewpoints: There are “many ways to skin a cat” or execute a given strategy. At the height of Board effectiveness is diversity of skill set, experience and perspectives. A Director should recognise that the overall interest of the organisation will be better served if multiple perspectives are considered before arriving at a decision on any issue before the Board. The Director should not attempt to force his/her viewpoint on the Board on the oft wrong assumption that it is the way to go. This also requires appropriate listening skills – a sincere attempt to actually “hear” what another Director has to say as opposed to waiting to counter that position. It is for good reason that the composition of the Board is diverse and the Board should enjoy the benefit of its diversity by ensuring that all views around the table are heard.

Integrity: A significant attribute of an effective Director is integrity. Integrity connotes sound ethical values, transparency, accountability, consistency, commitment and courage to set an appropriate “tone at the top”. Transparency and accountability that ensure all actions pass the test of public scrutiny. Enough time and attention committed to making a good job of it and courage to ask the right questions – or to walk away if that becomes necessary.

In addition to personal attributes, certain experiential factors also contribute to the effectiveness of a Director. These include:

Global exposure: Companies have embraced regional and global expansion which comes with unique challenges. A Director that brings to the Board an international perspective and exposure to global benchmarks is an asset to the Board. An effective Director is one who keeps abreast of global issues that would have direct or remote implications for the business.

Industry expertise: The Board is enriched by a Director that can contribute knowledge of the particular industry when evaluating issues and decisions before the Board. This need not be the industry in which the Company is operating as expertise in a sector in which the Company necessarily interfaces with is always desirable.

Financial knowledge: Whilst not required to be a financial expert or an Accountant, the ability to interpret financial reports and evaluate the financial implications of an action or decision is definitely an advantage. Directors should not shy away from seeking help in this regard.

Bringing it all together, it is important for Directors to always be reminded that the leadership and direction they provide to the enterprise is invaluable and it behoves upon them to continuously self-develop to ensure impactful stewardship.

Adeyemi is the Managing Director of DCSL Corporate Services Limited. Kindly forward comments and reactions to [email protected].