“Skills-Based” Board Excellent, Verifying Personal Characteristics & Attributes, Even Better!

Steve Carroll, CAE

In recent years we have witnessed an unmistakable and welcomed trend among nominating committees toward building a “skills-based” board of directors, in many cases creating a “skills registry” to ensure an ongoing mix of knowledge, competencies and abilities, resulting in a collective healthy and diverse variety of skill sets.

Typically, a nominating committee in pursuit of a “skills-based” board will search for financial, governance, marketing, HR, legal, communications and other areas of expertise to set the board up well in exercising its oversight responsibilities.  While I applaud associations who have made a “skills-based” board a priority, I would only add this: why stop there, when verifying board candidates’ personal characteristics and attributes and the resulting benefits for the organization is often even more important for a high performing board of directors?

“Soft skills” is a term often used to describe personal traits and qualities individuals bring to a team exercise.  Unfortunately, there is a perception among association staff and volunteer leaders that soft skills among board members are a “nice to have”, versus hard skills and competencies viewed as “must haves”.  The truth is, while a nominating committee should look for candidates with appropriate knowledge and competency skills, they should also look for the equally important team-building behavioural skills needed by a volunteer leader for the board to function well.

Board culture eats board strategy and decision-making for breakfast!  In other words, you can have the smartest and most skilled people sitting on a board of directors, but if they don’t work collectively and collaboratively as a team and if they don’t feel respected and valued among their peers, they will always be mired in dissension and disagreement, will not be productive or successful and ultimately will not serve the organization well.

The sought-after behavioural skills and personal attributes include a bridge builder, a consensus maker, a collaborator, a negotiator, a  committed worker, an integrator (not interrogator!), a solution seeker, a group motivator, a trust grower, a partnership supporter and people who are friendly, open-minded, optimistic, have great imaginations, are big picture thinkers, who through their actions inspire others and make people around them better and perhaps most importantly, they listen well, they listen attentively and thoughtfully and they don’t do all the talking.

While checking off the boxes for hard skills is much easier as they can easily be pulled out of a resume, checking off the soft skills simply requires a little more effort, investigative work and qualitative research.  A nominating committee needs to speak with references provided by the candidate and beyond that, people who have worked in group settings with the nominee in order to determine if the board nominee is someone who “plays well in the sandbox”.

If a nominating committee makes a small investment of extra effort and a little more time to determine if a board nominee has vital personal skills and attributes, the widespread and impactful resulting benefits and positive outcomes will set the organization up for future success and sustained high performance.

Steve Carroll, CAE is a Past President of CSAE Trillium and Independent Associate at The Portage Group. If you are a Past President of CSAE Trillium and would like to submit an article for “Past Prez Says”, please contact Tracy Blyth at [email protected].