Why not be a director?

Being a director is not for the faint hearted. It can be a full on, demanding and daunting role, but it’s also an opportunity to help build a strong, fair and sustainable future for organisations, and for New Zealand. By Kirsten Patterson.

We live in unusual, almost surreal times. Recently I’ve felt like I was witnessing post-Covid euphoria. People were out and about enjoying the freedom to eat out, have a cocktail, shop freely. 

Things seemed almost ‘normal’. But I know that they’re not. Global borders are still closed, the economy is uncertain and many organisations are feeling the hard pinch of reality arriving hot on the heels of the end of the wage subsidies. 

Organisations are cutting spending, downsizing and adjusting to a different version of normal. 

It is probably not surprising, but it is interesting that I have had many conversations recently with people who have felt the lure of being a director as they consider a career reset. 

Leading a professional body for directors I, of course, encourage new members but I want you to join with eyes wide open and for the right reason. 

And that really depends on your ‘why’, because being a director is not for the faint hearted. 

It can be a full on, demanding and often difficult and daunting role. It is also a fantastic opportunity to help build a strong, fair and sustainable future for businesses and organisations, and for New Zealand. 

But I have to be honest with people that approach me to chat about being a director. You probably won’t get paid much, if at all. 

You certainly won’t replace your executive level income. The hours are longer than you think and the personal liability risk is real. You’re unlikely to get on an NZX board, at least not in the short term, and getting a role at all usually takes a lot of effort.

So, am I saying don’t be a director? No. But, it’s important to be clear about the pathway you are embarking on. 

Think about what you want to achieve, how you can make a difference and why you want to. 

Do you want to be a director on a large corporate board, a start-up, a state sector organisation, or a charity? Or take on other governance roles such as on an advisory board or committee? 

Do you want a portfolio of positions or a particular role to help a business or community organisation reach its best? 

Be clear about your why and then plot your path. Of our 9000+ members, 51 percent have roles on not-for-profit boards and for a quarter of our members it is their primary role.

 I’m really inspired that so many choose to give back, to use their skills to help drive this essential sector. These roles are often voluntary. That doesn’t mean they are unimportant. I believe they are essential, especially now and a recent pulse survey we conducted backs that up. 

These organisations need skilled and experienced leaders, who are willing to commit to their governance roles and the work required to move the organisation forward. In fact, all organisations will require these things.

As a professional body we can’t guarantee that you’ll get a board role. That’s over to you. But we can help ensure that you are well-prepared, that you have access to the information you need and that we will be with you every step of the way as you embark on your governance journey. 

So to answer your question: “Should I try governance?” Maybe you should, but know that it’s not a quick fix or an easy ride. 

You need skills and experience, a willingness to commit, and the desire to make a difference. You also need a plan and the courage to keep learning and challenging yourself. If that sounds like you, then governance is definitely for you. If it’s a part-time job you’re after, you’ll find the reward does not reflect the risk.

If you’ve read this far and still think: ‘why not be a director’, we have a huge range of information freely available on our website: iod.org.nz. Go in with your eyes open and join others who are doing their bit to help build a better New Zealand.  

Kirsten Patterson is the CEO at the Institute of Directors.

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