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Shaping the Future of the Boardroom

18 Jun 2018

Shaping the future of the boardroom

By Caroline Donaldson, Director of Kynesis Coaching

The perennial problem of gaining the experience to get along doesn’t just rear its head at the outset of a career. It is an issue at board level too – and something the Institute of Directors and the Scottish Government are both committed to tackling, particularly for female directors, still woefully under-represented in the boardroom. 

Just how does a director come to the table board-ready? 

The board is a vastly different environment from a senior management team, or a project board.  Even if already operating at board level, advancing to different sectors, or bigger boards can be hard.  Participating in a board, and most importantly – making an effective, measured contribution, requires a very particular skill set – but those skills are usually formed on-the-job, rendering the boardroom a closed-off, intimidating space for some. 

To achieve diversity in boardrooms across Scotland will take time, and some hard work to ensure that those who might not be naturally inclined to head for the boardroom are welcomed into that environment, armed with the skills and confidence to make their mark. 

A Scottish board shadowing initiative involving both IoD and the Scottish Government has, to date, focused on a successful programme of board placements for women, where potential trustees and board members have participated in some of Scotland’s biggest or well-established boards – at Scottish Water, Skills Development Scotland and Hymans Robertson, for example.  Over 50 female leaders have been placed for a 12-month period to gain a practical insight into how boards operate and a clear picture of what’s involved in being a board member.  21 participants have, so far, taken up formal board positions on completion, and another 21 are still at the shadowing stage.

The participants, from different backgrounds, sectors and at varying stages of their leadership journey, gain a deep understanding of how a board operates and learn about chair and board member behaviours.  The confidence they gain from that experience has proved invaluable to the contributors, whether or not they decide to go on to apply for board level roles afterwards.  Some have coupled their experience with additional training to transform themselves into the best board-ready package, and they are already making a difference. 

Participants have reported that their shadowing experience has been a great success, gaining insight into governance issues, learning now to influence, manage and question more effectively, seeing first-hand how boards handle stakeholder partnerships and discovering how to tackle some of the critical challenges that boards are faced with. 

Many were trepidatious at the start, and wondered what the experience would really offer – does shadowing involve sitting silently and observing, and as an ambitious leader with strong opinions, will I find that very hard?  Most found, to their relief, that it most certainly would not be a passive experience.  Almost without exception, the board ‘shadows’ participated in discussions, sharing their experience or ideas in a safe space, with no formal expectations to live up to. 

It’s not just the new board members that are benefitting.  The organisations participating are profiting from leftfield observations, and the different skills and experiences of their temporary ‘board members’ are resulting in richer discussions and better-informed decision making at board level.  Some have also used the experience to ‘test-drive’ opening up their boards to a more diverse range of experiences and background – and that can only be positive for the future of Scotland’s businesses and third and public-sector organisations. 

Coordinated by Caroline Donaldson at Kynesis on behalf of The Scottish Government and the Institute of Directors in Scotland, the Board Shadowing initiative needs more boards, and more potential board members.  If you are interested in participating, please Email Caroline Donaldson

For more information, please contact

0131 557 5488


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