Member profile David Clouston, Royal College of Defence Studies

The Institute of Directors (IoD) has lots to offers directors aspiring to be the best and to make a real difference in their communities. Here we hear from North East member David Clouston about his role and how completing the IoD’s Accelerated Certificate in Company Direction benefited his career.

Tell us about your role today

I’ve been in the British Army for over 30 years and I’m currently working at the Royal College of Defence Studies.

Why did you join the IoD?

When I knew I was going to be appointed to a work-related Board level position, I decided to formalise my understanding of the legal and governance responsibilities that come with being a director. I needed guidance on how to effectively move away from a present day, operational mind set, to think more strategically and take a longer-term outlook.  I also wanted a better understanding of the corporate balance between risk and opportunity.

My focus was first the professionalisation of what I call boardroom hard skills and then softer skills, such as the ability to get the most from people and galvanize them around a specific common task. Balancing these skills is crucial to an optimal functioning board where there needs to be diversity of thought and opinion.

The work I did with the IoD and my interaction with non-military directors broadened my scope and was the first indication of the specific value the IoD brought to this phase of my career.

Why did the Accelerated Certificate appeal to you?

I could have done this over four or five separate courses with four or five separate exams over a period of months (or even years I think), but it suited me much better to have a single attempt and it allowed me to take a much shorter period of time off work. For busy people it is a time effective way of doing the programme.

Ultimately, some aspects of the course had far greater resonance with me. For example, modules like Strategy and Leadership were quite familiar territory after a career in the military. The Finance module was my Achilles’ heel so it was great to dig deeper into this. No one was trying to teach me how to become an accountant in two days – the goal was to equip me with enough understanding of Board level finance to ask the right questions and it did just that.

How has the Accelerated Certificate improved your practice?

One of the major takeaways from the IoD course is that at Board level it ceases to be about wanting to be proven right. That might satisfy your ego but the real issue is about encouraging a fair and open debate and facilitating the discussion. Collective wisdom is invariably better than any individual wisdom when tasks become complicated or complex.

Before I went on the course, I would have followed the natural military tendency to agree a solution, then plan and deliver it.  After completing the Accelerated Certificate I found myself trying to understand why people viewed things the way they did and to take a more considered and longer-term view.

The course exposed me to people at my level who were in totally different professions, of different backgrounds and cognitively diverse.  I found it insightful not just to see how they thought differently from me but also why they thought the way they did – and how that insight could provide a different level of effectiveness where problem solving is concerned.

To find out more about IoD membership and the Accelerated Certificate in Company Direction, please visit or contact the local branch chair Sarah Waddington at [email protected].

This article was written for ‘Northern Insight’ magazine and published as part of their December edition.

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