Many organisations have Non-Executive Directors (NEDs), or similar individuals, even in the public sector. Sitting on the Board with wide experience they are just as responsible for the lawful operation of the organisation they are involved with as are the Executive Directors, with the main difference that they do not have to run anything within the organisation and should be independent of the company. This independence means that they are not beholden to anyone in the company and can speak their mind fully.
I was first appointed a non-executive director in 2001. I have greatly enjoyed my time on each of the Boards I have sat on or chaired over the years, despite having to deal with some difficult situations. I hope the companies I served have also benefited from my executive experience too. My leadership experience can be shared very effectively when slightly detached from the situation. When you are “in the weeds” it is so much harder to take difficult decisions e.g. whether someone who has been helpful to get the company to where it is, can also take the company to the next level.
Much of the value of a Non-exec comes in the Board room during formal meetings and strategy discussions but a great deal of it also comes outside of that environment and, to be best used for the organisations benefit, needs the active encouragement of the Chief Executive. Non-execs need to understand the business, and will have experience outside of that business, a situation that leads itself to mutually effective 1:1 discussions with the executives. It is important to recognise that there is a line that mustn’t be crossed – the executive decides, the non-executive advises, or just describes experiences that they have gone through elsewhere, and from which lessons may be drawn.
Such business relationships can survive long after the tenure of the non-exec (usually 3 years) has finished. It’s not quite a coaching or mentoring relationship – although there may be elements of both – more a window onto a wider or slightly different world. I have enjoyed and benefited from these relationships both as a non-exec and as an executive.
Just recently an old colleague called me and we discussed a number of topics, which I hope were beneficial for him. He is a rarity in my experience – a CIO who knows how to best use the non-exec resource available to him.
I strongly recommend all CIOs take one of their non-execs out to lunch. Non-execs are interesting people and have wide experience – that is why they were selected for the position. They will have seen IT at work in other organisations – may not know how it works but will certainly know how well it supports their business. Aspects of IT like security, mobility, choice of personal productivity software, and even war stories about implementing major systems are likely to be topics where, at a business level you can have a mutually beneficial conversation.
And keep your CEO in the loop – they are likely to be delighted that you are getting a wider perspective.