Have you ever wondered if you have the skills and the passion to be a director? Paul Smith, the co-founder of the social enterprise Future Directors Institute, has written a book for you.
The book, Right Seat, Right Table, “offers a practical yet inspiring ‘how-to’ guide for getting a seat in the contemporary boardroom.” It’s an extension of the work that Paul does with the Future Directors Institute, which trains people for their first board positions.
“It’s just a culmination of the last couple of years with Future Directors,” Paul says. “We’ve been helping younger directors, although not exclusively younger directors, find their ideal board role and secure it. The role that best matches their value and values – the skill set and the passions and interests and also matches the need of the board room itself. That’s what we’ve been doing – kick-starting board careers, helping people find their own place, and it’s a natural extension to write a book that’s a practical how-to guide about how to do that.”
The book is squarely aimed at people who feel that they want to make change, but who feel that they don’t necessarily belong in the board room, Paul says.
“What was really interesting, when working with people at Future Directors, we found that these people felt like they didn’t belong, that they felt that the typical boardroom is pale and male – not all are stale, of course. But what want is to have people who want to be part of the solution playing from within the boardroom. We see the boardroom as the conduit of change. We’re not talking about activist directors, but really, people who saw the boardroom as the conduit, as the means for change, and people who are bringing a much wider perspective.”
Both the book and the Future Directors Institute give training for boards across the spectrum of non-profits through to listed corporates, Paul notes.
“It’s not just about being from a specific diversity angle, gender or age or cultural background, but also about the skill set – the non-traditional skill set,” he says. “It’s more than just being lawyers or accountants, but marketing, data analytics, entrepreneurs, engineers- everyone has a potential place in the boardroom, and I think that’s what we’ve been doing.”
There is an established body of research evidence that having a board that is diverse and inclusive brings increased returns and lowered risk, because cognitive diversity reduces potential blind spots.
“If you think about it, depending on your upbringing, education, life experiences and the places you grew up, you’ll view the world through a particular filter,” Paul says. “You might have particular biases, positive and negative, depending on how you see things. You might look at a skill set at a particular way, and I think that’s where it comes to the role of a board. The role of a board is to oversee an organisation and see the risks and opportunities, and make sure the organisation is solvent. It’s about strategy.
“If you have a bunch of people who think the same way, you’re going to have a lot of blind spots. The problem is, you may not know you have blind spots. At the moment, there’s a focus on gender diversity, and we’re looking at the levers to bring gender diversity to boards. But there are more – age, cultural difference, cultural background, geographical location, technical abilities and experiences, and all of these things mash up together to help boards see more, become more informed, and what’s better than a more informed board decision?”
The book is aimed at people who are not seeking to become professional board members, but rather people who want to join a board because they are curious, they have skills and they want to make a difference from within an organisation. It’s intended to begin that education process, and in the book, Paul outlines the CONNECT methodology Future Directors Institute uses to move participants through the process. It consists of the CONNECT – Consider your commitment, Own your unique value, Nail your assets, Network your value, Execute the right plan, Conduct your due diligence, and Thrive in the boardroom.
The book is currently on pre-sale through a crowdfunding campaign that will see proceeds given to a group of charities that Paul supports – The Hunger Project, Future Leaders, and Roots & Shoots.
“I’m for people who want to do things differently,” Paul says. “I’m currently on a program with the Hunger Project which is all about having an abundant mindset, and part of that is to raise $10,000. I’m currently at $7,000. I have a number of charity partners I’m developing around the world, and proceeds from ongoing book sales will go to those charities … You’ll buy it, the proceeds are going to charity, and if you want to do business with Future Directors Institute, you can find us. Most of my charity partners are related to working with outsiders, or helping people who don’t usually get help.”