The Boardroom’s Most Important Skills
Successful directors need to combine specific technical skills with general leadership chops.
Today's businesses are being impacted by issues across the regulatory, social, political and environmental fronts and among many different stakeholders, including employees and suppliers. CEOs are forced to make decisions in the face of this multiplicity of factors, which has added complexity to their businesses. Having a wide range of technical skills on the board helps CEOs to advance their business agendas by providing them with advice from diverse perspectives. Therefore, I believe that boards should have a mix of sitting CEOs, who provide a generalist view of broad business issues, and directors with expertise in particular areas that are critical for the business (regulatory, manufacturing, finance, services and IT, to name a few).
It’s especially important for technology and innovation skills to be represented on the board, given the importance of these areas in all industries. However, an ever-greater evolution needs to start happening in the near future … sooner than we think.
The business context will continue to be very unpredictable, complex, chaotic and volatile for the majority of industries. Changes and advances in consumer expectations and behaviors, technology, the regulatory environment and the global dynamics that all businesses are exposed to will make decision-making a challenge for CEOs.
Whereas in the past the CEOs’ credibility was founded on their ability to control business variables and predict good business outcomes, the credibility of today's chief executives is based on their ability to be agile and pivot continually, to make people comfortable in the face of uncertainty and to lead an organization with broad points of view.
This setting impacts directors as well, as the CEOs they support need a board that fully understands this operating context.
A broad diversity of skills and mindsets will be needed in the boardroom to engage in similar discussions to the ones CEOs will be exposed to. Thus, apart from the technical skills board members need to bring (industry expertise, sales/marketing, supply chain, technology, regulatory/legal, etc.), soft or leadership skills and behaviors will gain even more importance.
In a future world of technological advances and unthinkable solutions to most technical skills of the past, the human part of leadership will be of utmost importance to move businesses forward and create value better than their competitors do. Directors must accompany this evolution as well, and establishing a diversity of leadership skills and mindsets may be the way to create a strong board for the future reality. Among some of these skills are inclusive and human-centered skills; agile and creative thinking; and learner and entrepreneurial mindsets.
It is exciting to think about what the future will bring, and I am relieved that I see a path where human leadership will counter technology in a way that would be good for humanity.
Marisol Angelini is a director of American Vanguard Corporation and a former director of Bush Brothers & Company.