Honing Chair Skills
Today’s Chairs must navigate a fast-changing business environment and ever-increasing complexity – and the Chairs of tomorrow are likely to face even greater challenges, including from climate change, heightened expectations on inclusion and diversity, and greater digital disruption and cyber threat. As such, Fidelio has just delivered our 10th “A Seat at the Table” programme over two days at Hever Castle (Kent, UK). The focus was the Role of the Chair, building an understanding of this key leadership position, grasping the practical issues involved, and providing insight into what constitutes a high performing Board. Fidelio led discussion around the Boardroom table. We were joined by Chairs, and aspiring Chairs, from a range of sectors and geographies, including the UK, Continental Europe, the US and Africa; as well as four highly experienced key Chair speakers:
Julie Baddeley: Chair, Chapter Zero; Independent Non-Executive Director, TI Fuild Systems Plc
Paul Drechsler CBE: Chair, London First and International Chamber of Commerce ICC (UK)
Nick Owen: Former Chair, Deloitte UK and Deloitte North and South Europe
Laurel Powers-Freeling: Chair, Uber UK, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp EMEA and Cambridge University Health Partners
The Programme clearly identified that there is no one template for chairing an effective Board, nor one standard profile for a good Chair, but some clear themes and trends included:
Breadth of experience brings clear value to the Chair role – this includes both different types of organisation, as well the experience of success and challenging situations
Understanding of business and a firm grasp of governance are vital but so too is emotional intelligence and the ability to listen
The Chair’s ability to think through complexity, taking account of different perspectives, needs to be combined with a sense of purpose and an understanding of pace and momentum
Equally the range of issues facing the Chair is multifaceted and potentially daunting, so that an effective Chair will be able to distil the issues enabling the Board and company to move forward
An effective Chair will contribute to the oversight of stakeholder engagement, and will also be actively involved in communication with key stakeholders
Diversity and inclusion were prominently on the agenda and the Chair is a major contributor to setting the tone from the top while listening carefully to the organisation as a whole
It was evident that good Chairs are systemic thinkers and this includes ensuring integrated Board thinking regarding digital opportunity and cyber threat
And, finally, if Net Zero is to become a reality, business has a major role to play, as does the Chair and the Board in providing oversight, direction and above all commitment.
Fidelio’s two day Programme demonstrated there is no one route to the Chair role, nor one approach to effective chairing. However, a consistent theme throughout “A Seat at the Table” was the pivotal contribution the Chair can make to value and valuation. As one of our speakers underscored – it’s never too early to start honing Chair skills.