The Chartered Director Qualification
Being a Course Leader for the Chartered Director program (Certificate and Diploma programs) has provided me with the opportunity to work with over two thousand five hundred directors. During these intensive days one gathers many insights into the board life of a vast range of directors. I would like to share just four observations.
I obtained my Chartered Director qualification soon after returning from Shanghai where I had headed up a Cable & Wireless joint venture with China Telecom. Today, I deliver Leadership and Strategy programs for the IoD’s Certificate in Company Direction and Developing Board Performance on the diploma program. I also carry out external board reviews for the IoD in line with UK Corporate Governance Code guidance. To date, I have worked with over two thousand five hundred directors in over nine hundred companies, across the UK and internationally.
Why am I telling you this?
The reason is that each IoD program involves two or three days of close interaction. This has provided me the privilege of being able to listen to the thoughts, comments, and observations of over two thousand five hundred company directors. During these intensive days one cannot help but gather insights into the board life of a vast range of directors. I would like to share just a few of these observations with you.
First, and what may seem quite surprising, is that new directors (even directors of very large companies) when elevated to the board, often do not have a clear idea of what the role of a director really entails. They very often don’t know the full legal, liability and accountability aspects of the role, let alone those aspects in the human, even psychological, areas that are critical to developing a high-performance board. In the modern world much of this ‘soft’ complexity has increased hugely and the law (Companies Act) and guidance (numerous Codes) do not really help with the balancing and trade-off decisions directors must make, and often find themselves having to defend.
Second, most people make it to a board role by being good at their job in their discipline area. This domain knowledge is useful and desired on the board, but the broad role of the board is as a decision-making collective with joint and several responsibility and liability. This requires directors to be much more than narrow, discipline experts. The role requires directors to contribute constructively to the collective ‘leadership brain’ that is capable of balancing long-term vs short-term needs, external vs internal requirements and delivering performance while ensuring conformance to prevailing laws, codes and mores, (eg. think of the current ESG trends).
Assuming the new director has a clear idea of the challenges elicited by the first point and has the mental resilience (and ambiguity tolerance) to work in the broader, softer, unframed, and uncertain environment of the second, do they have the ‘mindset’ for the third? Most significant boards comprise between four to twelve people. Very few people make it to board level of a significant company by being ‘ego-lite’ (in a nice way!). Thus, the challenge for each director is how to engage collaboratively to create a high-performance, collective board when often the natural psychology of strong individuals tends to drive towards the disruption of this ideal. What one realises when looking at almost any board is that around the table you have six, or more, psychologies, experiences and capabilities that could be the most brilliant, composite, organisational brain if only they could harness that collective potential more positively. Consequently, most boards deliver average performance despite almost all boards having the potential within them for greatness.
The fourth area is both interesting and surprising. This is the area of strategy and the specific leadership requirements in the strategic sphere. It goes to the heart of the boards responsibility to create a long-term successful organisation (Companies Act, s172) whilst taking into account the complexities of its environment. (Note: similar requirements can be found in stewardship codes, public sector guidelines, Not-for-Profit, For Purpose organisations). For some reason many senior people think strategy is either easy (and intuitive!) or a waste of time and effort. The uncomfortable truth is that most strategies fail. Surveys and studies conducted on a regular basis over the last fifty years put the figure at around seventy percent. Just before COVID struck we were conducting a running survey on the IoD Strategy for Directors certificate program. We created a Strategy Health Check questionnaire comprising twenty critical strategic questions. Six hundred and fifty responses provided some interesting trends. In the main, even director’s understanding of why and where strategies fail, is often unclear. There is relatively easy, scope for improving strategic outcomes and all it takes is a little understanding in critical areas. It does not take much to begin to place yourself in the ‘thirty percent that succeed’ group. The IoD’s Chartered Director program provides the insights you need.
Finally, all the programs are highly interactive and designed to engage the experience and knowledge in the room. It is also interesting to note that over the thousands of directors who have been on the various Chartered Director programs’, over many years, the approval rating of the course leaders runs at well over 90% satisfaction across all course leaders and all programs.
There are many other critically important aspects of a director’s board life covered by the Chartered Director program and these can be investigated on the IoD website. It is worth highlighting that the Chartered Director program is unique in the UK and internationally. It is an examined program, externally accredited (Certificate is under-graduate, level 7 and the Diploma is level 9, post-graduate), and it is the only qualification that confers chartered status specifically for a director’s role on a board. However, more important than all these aspects, it is always immediately valuable in its use and practice. The IoD website has many personal stories around what Chartered Director has meant to a huge range of directors. These are well worth reviewing if you are considering this leading qualification.
I very much hope I get to meet you on a Chartered Director program in the very near future.
Murray is the IoD’s Chartered Director Ambassador for Berkshire and can be contacted by clicking here.
Murray Eldridge CDir FIoD FCMI MBA
IoD Berkshire – Chartered Director Ambassador