The Daily Juggle
The Daily Juggle
Why boards are likely to be filled with A-type personalities
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I was invited to a Sydney Dance Company rehearsal this week by non-executive director Naseema Sparks. She is the consummate networker and commands a room with her confidence and focus. The chair of Deals Direct and NED on a string of boards, Naseema is a woman who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it: a classic A-type personality.
When she made the decision to pursue a board career she worked out the industries she was interested in and then a strategy for landing a directorship with a company within that industry. When it came to the arts, she was clear that Sydney Dance Company was the organisation that most appealed to her.
"So I wrote a letter to the chairman telling him why he needed my skills," she said.
Clearly the strategy worked. Naseema was a skilled and successful executive from an attractive industry. She was the managing director of Y&R. What sets her apart is that she had the confidence and determination to make it happen. Who wouldn't want those qualities on their board?
Naseema told me her tale over lunch in the Sydney Dance Company boardroom following the rehearsal. She made it sound so simple. And it probably is if you have an A-type personality. Having the confidence to reach out for a position because you want it doesn't come naturally to everyone, woman or man. And yet, it's the most common advice that I hear.
Heidrick and Struggles' Dr Judith MacCormick once told me that men are significantly more likely to cold-call to enquire about available directorships. Women, in the main, will wait to be approached or at the very least will only make contact about a specific opportunity. So it does stand to reason that women like Naseema are more likely to grab board opportunities.
But not all potential directors are A-type personalities. Boards should be a clever and strategic mix of skills, ideas and risk analysis. So how are those non A-type directors found? In the boys clubs of old, they were probably tapped on the shoulder. But as the recruitment process becomes increasingly transparent for ASX200 boards and government boards at least, it just may be that the person with the raised hand is easier to identify. B-type personalities do not, by nature, readily put themselves out there so they may need to be encouraged to apply.
It's clear that more women need to be heard at the very top of organisations. We need more women on almost every board. But we need diversity of women too, just as boards need diversity of men. A-types and B-types. Extroverts and introverts. Leaders and listeners. Innovators and risk managers.
Confidence and board competence are not necessarily related. I was on a board once that was packed with A-type personalities. I was a shrinking violet compared with the rest. I was also the youngest, least experienced director and the only woman. The guys seemed to waste a lot of time chest-beating. I spent a lot of time listening and trying to make sense of the challenges facing the business and became aware that the management team was trying to focus the board's attention elsewhere.
Although I found it hard to get a word in with that group of directors: every one of them a leader or owner of a business, I had completed the AICD director's course a couple of years earlier and was mindful of my director's obligations. So while the CEO tried to hurry through the approval of the next year's budget I had to ensure that my concerns could be heard.
If we agree that we need a clever balance of director types on every board then it stands to reason that we need a mix of avenues for finding them. Take the women who have their hands up if they are suitably skilled but also seek the quiet achievers who just might be the surprise the board needs.
Would you like to be on a board but haven't had the confidence to pursue one?