Underestimate the value of soft skills in the Boardroom at your peril!

Underestimate the value of soft skills in the Boardroom at your peril!

Directors Hard Skills are only part of the skill set required.

Our experience at The Governance Company in conducting board reviews is that there is all too often an undue focus on the functional and sectoral skills rather than the soft skills that will help Board performance.

When I ask what new skills that are typically required as part of the board renewal process, the answer is often, financial, commercial, legal, digital, governance skills and also specific knowledge of the sector in which the organisation competes, e.g. social media, food, healthcare etc.

Soft Skills are a vital ingredient in the VUCA (Vulnerable, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world

The more insightful boards will also consider what soft skills are also required around the Boardroom table.

Part of the challenge in board renewal is ensuring that there is balance in terms of the hard skills required but also in terms of the soft skills.

No board will benefit from having a collection of board members with the same personality type.  So, when thinking about renewal it is worth thinking about the personality profile of the current board and what enhancements or changes are required to it to bring a better overall balance.

So, what are the soft skills should be considered?

  • Connectedness, the ability to forge connections with people through networking
  • Directorial presence, the ability to be able to convey, confidence, credibility, gravitas and decisiveness often with less than perfect information under the pressure of the boardroom clock
  • Ability to communicate, the real skill of a director is in being able to read the room and deciding when to make the appropriate intervention in language that everyone understands with the appropriate authority and assertiveness
  • Being positive, inspiring and daring to dream beyond the here and now. Part of the role of the NED is to push out the boundaries of what could be and to rattle the cage of the company comfort zone
  • A high degree of emotional intelligence which is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotionsof others around the table.  In the often-charged atmosphere of the boardroom this is a key skill to be used judiciously
  • Being in the here and now. This means being very aware of the topic at hand, who may own it and what a constructive contribution might be
  • Ability to understand the personality profile of the boardroom to help inform the language and position of one’s contributions
  • A steady and consistent hand which will earn trust and confidence

The Governance Company, in conjunction with Odgers Berndtson, a global head-hunter surveyed more than 200 non-executive directors in Ireland and Overseas to identify the DNA of directors required to sustain and thrive in the changing, challenging and complex VUCA world.

This survey throws light on the most crucial competencies, behaviours and soft skills for future directors to ensure boardroom effectiveness. The survey responses indicate that boards of the future – and how they are assembled – will have to adapt in fundamental ways to meet the challenges of a fast-changing VUCA world.

Directors of the future will need to combine their innate curiosity with the ability to listen to others and then imagine and articulate future business scenarios for the benefit of the organisation. Listening, observing and constructively challenging board colleagues and executives will be a key requirement for directors in the future. Directors of the future will need to have and apply greater levels of emotional and social intelligence to their advisory role.

It will be important for future boards to cultivate greater diversity in how they think. One director said, “Boards will need to find a way to encourage [a] diversity of views and complementary skills, rather than defaulting to easy-to-measure [director] profiles such as ethnicity [and] gender.”

It is unlikely that all these skills will be resident in one person, so it is critical that the Board / Nominations Committee have done their homework to ensure that in recruiting new board members that they complement and enhance both the hard and soft skills required.

Diversity can only help!

Download full copy of the survey “Building a board to face the future” from our website.

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David W Duffy

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