If you’ve got your sights set on getting a role as a non-executive director, you need to make sure you have the skills needed to excel at the position. There are six key skills and characteristics that every non-executive director should have—leadership, critical thinking, business acumen, integrity, interpersonal skills, and sound judgement. These skills and characteristics are applicable to non-executive director roles across all sectors.
Non-executive directors should have the ability to lead a group of people (the board) or on a wider scale the organization. As a non-executive director, the board will often look to you to take the lead on new proposals, business ideas, and suggestions—especially if the idea, proposal or suggestion is your own.
It is often argued which characteristics make the best leader, and a variety of situations will determine which of those characteristics will be best. However, it’s widely accepted that leadership defines people who can make those they are leading achieve over and beyond what they could achieve alone—more simply put as the ability to make the average into the extraordinary through actions such as inspiring, motivating, and achieving.
2. Critical Thinking
An important skill for every non-executive director is the ability to think critically. Critical thinking incorporates the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue or situation in order to form a judgement.
The ability to think critically enables non-executive directors to raise vital questions and problems, gather and access relevant information, think open-mindedly, and communicate effectively with others to find solutions to complex problems. Critical thinking is a skill that is crucial to succeed.
3. Business Acumen
Business acumen is defined as the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions in understanding and dealing with a business situation. Characteristics of an individual that possesses business acumen are decisiveness, flexibility, strong attention to business detail, logical (i.e., there is sound logic underlying business decisions), and consciousness of the impact of a decision on others.
Business acumen can be self-taught or learned through business experience. However, it is a skill and does not just involve being business-minded towards decision making. It incorporates the ability to see the ‘big picture’ with astute decision-making developed through a critical thinking mind (as mentioned in #2 above).
Integrity is a must-have skill for a non-executive director. It’s vitally important for businesses to uphold the values of integrity such as togetherness and being unified and undivided.
It is important for a business to be united and pull in one direction to achieve a goal or objective. If a board or business cannot agree on a direction to take the business, the business will become divided on its objectives. The business may try to achieve too many targets and fail to achieve any as a result. Thus, for a non-executive director, the ability to bring together the board and unite decision making is essential to establishing a successful business and board.
5. Interpersonal Skills
Another important ability for non-executive directors is interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills are needed for many job roles, however, in the role of non-executive director, they are critically important.
Interpersonal skills are related to other skills mentioned in this article such as leadership, critical thinking, and integrity. Interpersonal skills are the skills that enable us to communicate and interact with other people—individually and in groups. Interpersonal skills are integral to good leadership, critical thinking, and displaying a good level of integrity.
Individuals with good interpersonal skills are often perceived as confident, calm, charismatic, and optimistic. These skills are all highly-sought after in a non-executive director for boards.
6. Sound Judgment
Finally, a key skill for a non-executive director is the ability to pass sound judgment. Non-executive directors may be required to pass sound judgment over a wide variety of subjects and topics related to business and not just business decisions. How a non-executive director passes judgment on a particular subject matter could have a big impact on the way workers feel they are being perceived or their values are being treated.
It is important that non-executive directors have the ability to judge, make a decision, or form objective opinions in an authoritative and wise manner especially with situations that affect actions. It can be devastating to a business if a workforce believes a non-executive director is making decisions that are not based on facts, logic, or sound judgment but rather, based on bias or preferential treatment. This will ultimately influence the workforce’s willingness and desire to work for the business. A non-executive director should be able to demonstrate sound judgment to their workforce through their decision-making and the implications of those decisions on others.
To conclude, if you have read this article and thought, “I don’t have one, two, or any of those skills but still want to become a non-executive director,” don’t be discouraged. The six skills discussed above are all achievable and can be learned and developed.
About the Author
Bradley Walsh writes for First Flight Non-Executive Directors, which runs courses and workshops to help prospective Non-Executive Directors hone their skills and abilities.