Director Coaching

Six ways to maximise your impact as a non-executive director

By: Dale Simpson

In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, non-executive directors (NEDs) play a crucial role in steering organisations towards sustainable growth. NEDs can significantly enhance a company's performance by bringing a wealth of experience, diverse perspectives, and strategic guidance to the boardroom. Here are six ways to maximise your impact. 

1 Undergo continuous professional development


It should be par for the course, but when we get busy it can be easy to forget to stay updated with industry trends, regulations, and best practices. You can do this by attending conferences, workshops, and networking events. You can also Invest in your personal development through training programs, individual coaching, certifications, and mentorship opportunities. Personality assessment tools such as Facet5  can also be extremely useful tools for self-insight and inter-group dynamics.  Make sure you understand what these tools are telling you.  There are many free assessments on line if you care to explore.   The more you do them the more certain you will be of what you have to offer and what you need to develop.


2 Ensure effective communication


Cultivate strong communication skills to articulate your insights, ideas, and concerns clearly and persuasively. Fostering open dialogue and collaboration among board members and senior management drives more informed decision-making. To encourage active participation and constructive feedback, meetings should be held regularly where all parties can express their ideas in a respectful and safe environment. It's important to create an atmosphere that emphasises listening and understanding, rather than competing opinions.

We have all heard this before, but it does not hurt to be reminded that in order to listen to understand, we need to be present and attentive. At a very basic level this means not using our laptops or tapping out a text when a colleague is speaking.  On a more intellectual and emotional level it can be difficult to make a conscious effort to set aside our own biases and judgements so that we can truly hear what the other party has to say. Even if you disagree with their perspective, strive to understand where they are coming from by asking relevant questions in an open and non-threatening manner.  Aim to get to the root of their argument Say "I'm curious about your statement xx can you tell me more about that?" or " Can you expand a little on xx I'm keen to understand your perspective thoroughly”.  

And we all know about active listening - even if we don't do it as often as we might - summarising what you've heard in order to ensure accurate comprehension. You want a productive dialogue that leads towards positive resolutions.  

One of my colleagues insist on us meditating for 5 minutes prior to each meeting.   The result being that it is much easier to be present.  Try it.


3 Use strategic thinking and foresight

Develop a comprehensive understanding of the organisation's goals, challenges, and opportunities. Apply strategic thinking to identify potential risks, anticipate future trends, and contribute to the development of long-term plans that align with the company's mission and vision.

Whatever your organisation is considering, another may have already been there.  Having a handle on current case studies saves time and you get to learn from their challenges and mistakes.  There are Think Tanks that are constantly putting out papers and information on current trends.  On International affairs, the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) is a great source. Every university of note will have an innovation precinct, get to know who they are.  On strategic foresight I would recommend attending the various forums including The World Business Forum.  You are getting the idea I hope.


4 Have robust governance and compliance

:It should go without saying that you would familiarise yourself with the regulatory environment, corporate governance principles, and follow the ethical standards relevant to your industry. You act as a custodian of good governance by ensuring legal and ethical compliance, promoting transparency, and safeguarding the interests of all stakeholders. You don't want your organisation ending up in the news like PwC - an unfortunate example of a massive breach in corporate ethics. 

While this scandal highlighted the importance of ensuring compliance with corporate governance principles and ethical standards it also serves as a reminder that as a NED you are in a position of trust.

If you haven’t already, consider undertaking a program in corporate governance at either the Governance Institute of Australia (GIA) or the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) then seriously consider not moving forward as there is much to learn and much to know and it is never enough.


5 Foster diversity

In today's increasingly diverse business world, we need to embrace different perspectives at the boardroom table. Everyone brings something unique to the discussion and collaboration should be encouraged regardless.

Fostering diversity can help drive boardroom innovation and decision making. As a NED, you should make an effort to understand different perspectives, ideas, backgrounds and cultures of other members on the board. An example of this would be having conversations that are not just about increasing profits or cost savings but to also look at how decisions may impact the workforce or the broader community and environment. For instance, if the board is deciding on a new strategy that involves restructuring, it’s important to consider how this decision may affect employee morale or the industry as a whole and how it will affect future productivity and capability. By understanding different perspectives, board members can deliver more holistic solutions that better reflect the interests of all stakeholders involved.

Diversity is all about different ways of thinking.  It is also a way of avoiding collusion in the boardroom that can only lead to more narrow thinking and in many cases unforetold disasters.   We have an obligation to first listen and to secondly be heard.


6 Get comfortable with performance evaluation and feedback

Participate actively in board evaluations and assessments, both individually and collectively.  

Having a willingness to learn and accept constructive feedback is critical for non-executive directors. Board members need to be open to listening and responding to different viewpoints in order to make informed decisions that benefit the organisation. Additionally, they should also be willing to provide honest, constructive feedback when needed - this can help teams work together more effectively and create an atmosphere of mutual trust.


It is always useful to reflect on lessons learned and implement improvements to enhance board effectiveness and organisational success.

We know that non-executive directors have a unique and valuable role in the boardroom. You each play an important part in ensuring that the organisation is compliant with corporate governance principles and ethical standards, while also providing strategic guidance and assistance when needed. By taking the time to hone your skills in taking and giving feedback, effective communication and fostering diversity through a process of continuous professional development, as non-executive directors you are well positioned to support and guide your  organisation's success.

I also strongly recommend an external audit of board processes and performance at least every 3 years.  Clever boards also have a Board Development Committee that focuses on learning and performance. After all – it is your career.

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