What’s the ONE thing EVERY non-executive director needs to bring to the boardroom?

Paul Smith
Mar 20, 2016 · 2 min read

I have asked this question a lot over the past few years and this is the range of answers it receives:

- Board experience
- A long executive career
- Legal and/or finance background
- AICD (Australian Institute of Company Directors) course graduate
- Influence amongst an extensive network

Well I say poppycock to you all! Yes, poppycock!

I’m not saying any of these are not worthy, far from it, but let’s take each one in turn.

  • Board Experience: Are we born with board experience? No, so let’s drop that one right away. Everyone has to start somewhere.
  • A long executive career: Few noted a successful one as a prerequisite, which was a worry in itself, but stack a room full of long term executives and you’ll not likely to get much in the way of diversity of mindset.
  • Legal and/or finance background: Yes, directors need to understand a balance sheet and their legal responsibilities and duties, but what boards need more than ever are entrepreneurs, coaches, marketers, engineers, scientists, digital experts, humanitarians and so on.
  • AICD (Australian Institute of Company Directors) course graduate or equivalent overseas: This one really hit me. Did you know that the majority of the NEDs (that’s jargon for non-executive director BTW, (that’s jargon for By The Way BTW)) do not have the AICD or equivalent qualification? So if they don’t have, why does everyone else need it? It’s a thoroughly useful course (if a little on the exclusive side $ wise) but it’s not the ONE thing.
  • Influence amongst their extensive network: Urm. Yes. Useful for some, but accountability (keeping it and being it) is even more important.

So what do I think is the #1 thing that every director needs.


“EQ is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathise with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.”

And it’s not just me that believes this. In every final session of XY on Boards’ programs we ask our expert speakers and our cohort what they think — we crowdsource the answer. Across all the groups EQ, or words to that effect, comes out on top. The belief being that you’ll never be truly effective unless you can handle the changing realities for boards in the 21st century; like true diversity or the digital revolution.

You may disagree with me, that is your right and I empathise with you…..but whilst the list above is nice to have, it’s what lies beneath the surface that counts.

Paul Smith is CEO of XY on Boards.

Our mission is to empower and connect the next generation of board directors now & promote an extra dimension of diversity. Our Board Kickstarter Program helps emergent leaders kickstart or enhance their boardroom journey.

Originally published at www.linkedin.com.

Paul Smith

Written by

Founder & CEO of Future Directors Institute | Chair, Jane Goodall Institute Australia | Co-founder Gin Lane Australia and Start-up Boardroom | Husband, Father

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