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The business world has always been in a state of flux. Right now we are experiencing a paradigm shift that will change how businesses operate. Subsequently, organisations are searching for board members that can bring solutions to the conversation. This article discusses the essential qualities boards are looking for in Non-Executive Directors.

Before we dive into the key attributes, it’s important to define what is expected of individuals taking up a role as a Non-Executive Director. They have a responsibility for providing other board members with a perspective based on specialist knowledge, to constructively challenge strategies and assist in formulating a course of action.

As a key decision maker, Non-Executive Directors play an important role in safeguarding the future of the organisation, reducing risk, navigating obstacles, understanding compliance and generally helping to improve the performance of the business in any way possible.

It’s also important to note that what follows outlines the qualities individuals need to have or develop, and not skills. Whilst both are important, we will assume you are already on top of your game and don’t need our guidance in that ball court.

1. Commitment

Although Non-Executive Directors are typically part-time obligations, the role can be very demanding. C-suite executives expect Non-Executive Directors to be as committed to the future prosperity of the organisation as they are. So do your homework and make sure you are fully prepared to deliver at every meeting.

It is important to remember here that Non-Executive Directors have the same legal responsibilities as other Directors. You should, therefore, have an understanding of the company, the market, industry regulations, competitors, challenges and potential solutions. Non-Executive Directors that do not show commitment soon fall out of favour with their peers.

2. Sound Judgment

In your role as a Non-Executive Director, you will be expected to make critical decisions. The ability to make rational judgement calls over a wide variety of issues is an endearing quality other board members want to see in their associates.

Technology is evolving quickly in the current climate and opinions in the boardroom will differ. Whilst a willingness to challenge is a positive attribute, providing an objective point of view should be authoritative, or at the very least apply sensible logic.

3. Strategic Thinking

Although the executive team propose strategies, Non-Executive Directors are expected to provide objective analysis and evaluation. Because the business world is changing at such a rapid pace, outcomes can be difficult to predict. The ability to think strategically is an essential quality in order to help the company navigate the pitfalls of building a business.

Strategic thinking involves contributing solutions. A commercial awareness is vital. 

Non-Executive Directors that have the capacity to drive to the heart of an issue, challenge potential problems and effectively communicate the bigger picture will help the team as a unit make better decisions.

4. Business Acumen

Business acumen encompasses a number of qualities; the ability to make sound judgement calls and quick decisions, as we have already touched upon, together with the ability to understand the current issues and the future solutions.

Positive character traits in individuals that show good business acumen are decisiveness, flexibility, attention to detail, logic, ability to perform under pressure and emotional intelligence.

A knowledge of governance is also an essential quality for Non-Executive Directors. An understanding of the legal and regulatory conditions a business has to work under helps the board operate within the guidelines and avoids liabilities for negligence or fraud.

4. Team player

Whilst boards want Non-Executive Directors with an individual mindset that can bring new ideas to the table, projecting objective opinions is a vital quality in team players. Personal baggage should be left at home, and opinions, personal preferences or feelings kept to yourself.

Non-Executive Directors that are vocal about the direction of the business risk being locked out by your peers. For example, if other board members do not share your view of social responsibility, or vice versa, willing to sacrifice profit in favour of moral obligations, reserve judgement until you understand the majority vote.

For businesses to be successful, the board has to pull in one direction. The most sensible approach for Non-Executive Directors is to bring the board to a decision rather than stoke the fire that divides opinion.

5. Interpersonal Skills

People with strong interpersonal skills typically harbour character traits that reflect confidence, charisma, optimism and calmness. During the interview stage, these are the type of qualities interviewers look for in a prospective non-executive.

Successful Non-Executive Directors are agreeable whilst maintaining integrity and strong principles. Objective scrutiny is a prerequisite in a boardroom environment, and the ability to provide an opinion without making enemies is a quality that is highly desirable in a non-executive.

Modern companies are faced with numerous challenges in a fast evolving and unpredictable world. Developing the qualities of character to deliver solutions and work as part of an executive team is essential for twenty-first-century Non-Executive Directors.