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What are the most important qualities in a board member?

Dimitriya Paunova

Board Meetings

What does the perfect board member look like?

Of course, there’s no such thing – it depends on the organisation, the characteristics of their fellow directors and a myriad of other factors.

But all the same, some qualities can be identified as important for board members.

A survey by Grant Thornton looks at these qualities. The survey, The Board – Creating and Protecting Value, was released earlier this year.

It questioned a sample of chief executives, chairs, directors of finance/chief financial officers (or similar), board members/ non-executive directors and company secretaries. The participants represented a range of industries, from commercial firms to charities and government bodies.

The qualities a board member needs

1. A relevant industry or sector background

This was the quality recognised by most respondents.  Those in education and public companies particularly identified with the need for sector experience.

The report notes that experience in the industry might make it easier for directors to challenge decisions – something its authors see as important in ensuring the board creates value. 

2. Analytical and critical thinking

This need to challenge, and not to fall victim to groupthink or other ‘herd’ decision phenomena, is something we’ve looked at before in our blog on how to stop social processes undermining your board decisions.

This was also identified as a key skill for directors.

They receive large amounts of often-complex data in preparation for meetings. Being able to analyse this – making use of techniques like situational intelligence – is essential.

  1. 3. Ability to debate key issues relevant to the board, ability to ask challenging questions

These inter-linked qualities are seen as very valuable. This supports the idea that directors – executive and non-executive – are there to interrogate proposals by the business, to ensure the organisation is headed in the right direction.

An understanding of the important issues, and an ability to debate and question them so that the best decisions are made – are essential to this.

  1. 4. Strategic thinking and direction

Again, this is a core responsibility of the board and a key skill for directors.

The composition of your board can play an important role here. We looked in an earlier blog at how the female brain may be the secret weapon of the best boards – in part because women are less likely to make decisions based on incomplete information. This helps to ensure that strategic decisions and direction are based on the full picture.

You can help your board with this by identifying how your directors prefer to receive information and making sure they are briefed effectively for meetings.

  1. 5. An eye for detail

This is an interesting finding. While those in private companies and the education sector rated an eye for detail as highly important, it was far lower down the list for all other sectors.

Directors have to wade through reams of board papers. A meticulous approach can be valuable in distilling the essential points from all the information – picking up on the salient issues that should drive decisions.

Company secretaries can help directors ‘read from the same page’ by producing board packs in a way that makes it easy to read and digest all the data they need. Read 5 strategies for best practice board packs for more on this.

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Source: Grant Thornton

The full survey results are available from the Grant Thornton website, and offer an interesting insight into board member views on how they can create value.

If you want to read more about how providing board materials via an online portal can help to give your directors the information they need to deliver strategic decisions and direction, you can download our free Board Portal FAQs. They cover questions we’re often asked on a portal-based approach and how it can benefit boards and company secretaries. You can get a copy here.

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