Can I have both an Executive and a Non-Executive role?

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Yes, you can hold a Non-Executive and Executive role simultaneously. Indeed, over 90% of the people I work with either hold or want to hold a board appointment in addition to their executive role. Still, many don’t pursue board appointments, and there can be several reasons for this.

Don’t underestimate the professional & personal benefits.

Quoting myself: “Those who hold an independent board appointment in addition to an existing executive role earn more, are more promotable, have greater job security and are unemployed less”. 

But don’t just take my word for it; a recent study from Harvard Business Review confirmed this as well, stating that ‘serving on a board increases an executive’s likelihood of being promoted by 44%, and even if they weren’t promoted, their annual pay was increased by 13%.’

Concerned about the time commitment of a board member?

Some are worried about the time commitment. While sitting on any board is a time commitment, the rewards far outweigh the risks. Nevertheless, you must be aware of what will be expected of you. 

Generally, 10-20 days a year is what you should expect or, perhaps, two days a month.  This will seem unfeasible for some, but it is a stroll in the park for others. It does not necessarily mean two days out of the office; it could be as little as half a day or perhaps none. Broken down, your time commitment will probably include half a day of travel (even less these days as many boards meet online) plus the board meeting itself, time for sub-committee meetings, a few hours of reading and absorbing board papers prior to the meeting, and, of course, extra-professional activities related to the organisation (attending events and the like). In total, about a day’s worth of work. However, you should also factor in those occasional late afternoon blindsided events that consume NEDs for a short period of time. Maybe the CEO resigns, or a particular deal or disaster needs to be addressed.

A board appointment will require some of your time. However, the required time commitment is not nearly as onerous as you might expect. Yes, in some instances, a board role might require you to pull the odd double shift, but many busy executives juggle multiple board positions.

Unsure of your value as a board executive?

Another reason executives stall in making a board appointment a reality is that they don’t know if their experience would be valuable at the board level or why an organisation might be interested in having them on their board. But I think you will find that if you pick your target companies carefully, your skills and experience are highly desirable. 

For many organisations, their Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) fill the knowledge, resource or network gaps or complement the expertise not available in the executive team. Further, you can bring industry currency and gravitas they may not have. This currency and expertise are crucial. Without it, most organisations’ growth will be slower… and they know it.

For all these reasons, you might find yourself and your skills far more desirable than you might imagine.

Don’t know what to do first?

The final reason is that executives often don’t pursue a board appointment because they simply don’t know where to begin and, as a result, lack the confidence to make it happen. For some, it will feel like applying for their first job: a weird position for a seasoned and successful executive. But it needn’t be that way.

Gaining a board appointment, whether it be your first or a subsequent more significant appointment, is not a journey. It is a process, and it is a very simple one. It is also easy to implement. 

If you are an executive who wants a board appointment, here is my advice:

  1. Tell people you are looking for one. It can often be just that simple.
  2. Be ready for two subsequent questions –
    • What organisation would you like to be on the board of? And,
    • Why do you want to be a non-executive?

If you need help figuring out where to begin, or if your board search has faulted, attending one of my Board Search Events may be a good first step.

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About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Direction – Australia’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world

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