I’m a good Finance Director. I do all the right things – a balance between the strategic but checking on the detail, an interest in all the things we do across the business, looking inwards and outwards, setting targets, frameworks and leading. I hope I get more of these right than wrong. As I’ve progressed through my career I’ve become comfortable with financial results, risk management, Board and Committee terms of reference and balanced scorecards. I don’t need the detail any more as I can seamlessly link it to the big picture. If truth be told I still seem to like getting drawn into the detail sometimes. It’s comforting amidst the uncertainty that is a key part of leadership nowadays.
It seemed like an obvious next step to volunteer my skills as a non-exec Board member somewhere else. Good experience of something different, a higher profile for me, and notionally a benefit to my own organisation as I grow.
Having been a non-exec for smaller businesses for nearly 20 years I was excited to become a non-Exec for a similar sized Housing Association to my own. An opportunity to share my expertise – the good and bad things that I have picked up on the way. And a chance to see how others approach things to continue on my learning journey. It’s been great. But it’s taken me a couple of years to work out how to add value as a non-exec without trying to repeat the excellent job that their FD is already doing. I don’t need to get sucked into the detail unless there is a specific problem – why do I need to see pages of management accounts? It’s so easy to be drawn into copying the approach I take in my own organisation, but I’m now watching out for that and I think I’m a better non-exec as a result.
But I’ve also come to realise that I should be trying to bring the non-exec style back into my role as FD. The externally focused perspective, the strategic view, the questioning but supportive manner and the need to retain a simple narrative (which is critical for non-execs parachuting in at intervals) all improve my effectiveness as an FD. This approach also provides space for my excellent direct reports to flourish, and invariably do a better job than I would. So I’ve started thinking more like a Board Member in my day job. All of a sudden, prioritising has become easier, and I can spend more time on the things that really matter, rather than the comforting things I used to enjoy. I am adding more value.
If you are interested in the same journey, then give it a go. Get in touch with the specialist housing consultancies as they often do the recruitment for Boards and Committees. I have two tips – find an organisation where there is a good cultural fit and then once selected, invest some time. You will only add value if you are listened to, and that requires trust and understanding, so you need to be on the same page as each other. And you need to get to know them and what they do.
I thought I was sharing my expertise with another important organisation, but in fact I’ve learned a great lesson which makes me a better leader back at home. I would encourage anyone to think about what skills they can offer in a governance role. It can be a lot of work, but you get more back than you put in.