Five questions for new directors

Are you a manager who thinks you ought to be a director – or a director, who still thinks like a manager?

positive results

Because a new director needs to consider more than just their legal responsibilities, it is important that they have clearly defined their public identity and the strategic and stakeholder relationships associated with their new role.

As such, here are five questions for new directors to help you make the transition more quickly and effectively.

  1. Have you discussed your new role with your chairman?
    Are both of you clear about your role and responsibilities? Do you understand the culture and operating procedures of the board? The chairman is the best person to ask at this level because it is their responsibility to set the tone of the meetings and define the culture – the way things are done – in your organisation.

  2. What does it mean to you to be a director?
    When you were not a director, how did you perceive other directors? It's possible that this is now the way others will perceive you. Are you comfortable with your new identity? Recognition of discomfort is a good start to facilitating a transition into the new role. Seek help, internal or external, and keep asking questions.

  3. Have you discussed your new role with your staff and colleagues?
    What are their expectations of you now? The directors who struggle most with transition are the ones who have difficulty letting go of their previous roles, or fail to clarify their relationships with staff. What's important is explicitly establishing a new set of expectations. Once again, awareness, communication and questions are key here.

  4. How should you change the way that you trawl for information?
    What radio, television, newspapers and magazines should you now access? What sorts of things should you now notice that are more macro and strategic than micro and operational?

  5. How and where should you network and how should you represent your organisation?
    Have you defined your new public identity? Once again, this is something to discuss with the chairman. How would he or she like you, as a director, to engage with the public, the media and the stakeholders of your organisation? Are you comfortable with it? Again, seek assistance to transition this as smoothly as possible.

To successfully move from being a manager to becoming a board director requires a speedy transition from being highly knowledgeable in a small niche to broadly knowledgeable in a much larger sphere of influence. Promotion to a director position brings with it new legal responsibilities. These vary from country to country and the importance of understanding them should not be ignored.

However, they will have very little impact on your effectiveness in your new role. What will impact on your effectiveness are issues connected with: -

  • your identity
  • relationships and
  • how you scan and process information

When directors are first appointed they often have difficulty adapting to their new role. Just think of a typical career. This is perfectly natural. At the beginning of your career you will probably have had a fairly broad education. Your knowledge will be broad but shallow.

As you progress, you will become more knowledgeable and more experienced, particularly in a specialised field. The more specialised you become, the greater the depth of your knowledge and experience in a smaller niche, and thus the more shallow the depth of your broader knowledge.

This means that eventually, when you are the head of a department or a divisional head, you will know a great deal about very little! (in the broader scheme of things)

But, suddenly, when you become a director, your role changes. Having been responsible for the activities of one part of the organisation, you have to think about all the departments. What's more, as a board member you have to think about them holistically, not just as partners with your own department.

This is particularly difficult if, as is often the case, you are an executive director with continuing responsibility for your department; now you have to wear two hats, covering a breadth and depth of knowledge.

Furthermore, you need to take on a new identity and restructure your relationships, both with your new board colleagues and, which is more of a challenge, with your existing departmental colleagues.

Case Study

I had a client who had been an effective operations manager; he concentrated on his team, its well-being and how together they could meet the goals set for them. He made sure team members had the tools they needed to perform their tasks; he focused downward within his team. But the tasks of an effective director are quite different; a director must focus upward and outward, not downward and inward.

After two years on the board, he was still acting like a manager and a new chief executive called me in to help. As part of my coaching, I tasked him with asking his departmental staff what they expected of him as a director. They told him they did not need him as a "mother hen". Instead, they wanted him to manage upwards, representing their interests but always contributing to the best interests of the organisation as a whole.

This response came as a shock to him, but once he refocused on his responsibility to the organisation as a whole, he became an effective member of its board of directors. It also lowered the stress in his life, since he was able to work with his own strengths.

Strategic thinking needs different information

Directors have much more strategic and long term responsibilities than managers and should adjust their outlook accordingly. They need to scan the business, political and economic environments in order to understand the context for their planning and decision making.

This is particularly important in times like the present, when old assumptions and information are no longer valid. Not only, might they need to monitor different media channels and look out for different external influencers, but they will also need to interact with events.

The role of director is a key part of setting the strategy and providing the leadership of an organisation. New directors can be more effective, more quickly, if they are helped in making the transition in an induction process that these five questions help facilitate.

In short, the role of director is significantly different from that of an operational line manager, and the way the transition is handled is the key to enabling the new director to be more effective, more immediately.

Return to our directors home page.

FREE e-course for directors