IMHO: Mastering your transition

Becoming a director is the next logical step for an executive. Isn’t it?

By Penny Wood, Director, Business for Life Ltd
6 Dec 2021
read time
5 min to read
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Your past success does not ensure future success

OPINION: Executives often consider directorships as the next logical step after their executive careers, and many may even consider it a rite of passage.

However, as we move on from our pre-pandemic world and find ourselves in this liminal unbounded place, trying to make sense of an uncertain new world emerging, it’s likely our skills, practices, ways of working and successes of the past will no longer be the predictors of our success in the future.

This requires a fresh look at the way we look at the world, the skills, practices and qualities of directors and a strong consideration as to whether directorships are for you.

Mastering the change and the transition

Whether you are in mid-life and feel the need to explore and maximise your career going forward, have had a sudden wake-up call, such as a job loss, or you are being invited and encouraged to consider a governance role, there are two key aspects you need explore when deciding if a directorship is the next right step for you.

The change

The first aspect is situational the what and the how of the change from executive to director. This is an externally focused process, the place where we put the majority of our attention and involves thorough due diligence. There is a lot of good guidance on conducting due diligence including in the Four Pillars of Governance Best Practice. Seeking the support of networks and the voice of experienced directors is important.  

The transition

The second aspect is psychological, the why of the transition from executive to director. This internally focused process, that often receives little or no consideration, involves the deeper question of why you might choose to take on directorships. In our experience some of the common responses to that question from executives are “It just seems the next step in an executive's career path”, “I don’t know what else to do”, “I want more flexibility in my life so thought taking on directorships would give me that”, and “I’m being encouraged to look at directorships”.

Successful transitions involve you mustering up the courage to explore the tough soul-searching questions that will shape the next move in your career and life.

Imagine a continuum. At one end, your consideration and decisions relate to maintaining your success profile and brand identity. You feel that you need, should, or have to make the move into directorships and you may also feel the move is expected of you. 

At the other end of the continuum, your consideration focusses more thoughtfully and purposefully on what and how you want your success and identity to be defined going forward, how you can make the most of your mid-life career and beyond, where you can make a meaningful contribution, and whether taking on a directorship, or not, is the right next step for you.

Where would you place yourself on the continuum? And what questions might this raise for you?

Be wary of the seduction

Often executives are invited to join boards. Your achievements have been validated by people who you may consider important. This can blindside wise thinking and pragmatic decision making.

Be mindful and step back to consider what it is you really want, paying attention to both the intended and unintended consequences of accepting a directorship. The intended may or may not happen. The unintended always happen and are easy to brush aside when the seduction of the board offer comes your way.

Pragmatic considerations like time are important. Your board role may be in addition to your executive one, at least in the short term. How will you manage both roles? What will be the impact on your organisation if you take on the role? What will the impact be on your partner and family and on your well-being? All those around you in your professional and personal life will be a part of your transition process.

How do you want to show up as a successful director?

In making the transition you need to spend time redefining what success looks like for you and what your ideal self as a director would think, look, feel and behave like. Paint a picture of yourself as a future director. How would people describe you as a successful director, and how would you want them to see you?

And in shaping that future self, look at the skills, practices and qualities of those directors you admire and who inspire you. How would you describe them? Why do they inspire you? And what skills, practices and qualities do they have which you would like to develop and model?

Skills for an uncertain new world - a learner's mindset

For directors to be successful in this uncertain new world, you need to have a learner's mindset, and a high capacity and comfort for change and transition.  

Linked to the learner’s mindset are four additional skills that support and stretch existing director skills and practices required for success.

Foresight: The ability to listen through the noise, to notice current trends and what’s happening at the periphery of things. To look beyond the short term, to look over the horizon and listen and look for the future.

Insight: The ability to derive meaning from present complexities and the messiness around us and to sense what’s most important and what matters most.

Skillful action: The ability to rebalance and decide in the present on a strong path ahead and demonstrate agility and resilience while in action.

Connection and compassion: The practice and qualities of being quietly transparent, inclusive, genuine, human and authentic with others.

In exploring the tough soul-searching questions in your transition, ask yourself to what extent you have embodied these skills, practices and qualities necessary for your success as a director and what more might you need to work on to develop them.

Mastering transitions are challenging

If you’re reaching a point in your executive career where you are considering moving into governance, take your time  and ensure it is quality time  to master your transition.

As you consider a move into a directorship, reflect on these key questions:

  • Are you thoughtfully and purposefully exploring the change and the transition from executive to director, or are you ignoring the transition piece?
  • Are you reflecting deeply on why you are considering a move or are you giving this a light touch?
  • Are you reflecting on the impact the move may have on those around you or haven’t you seen this as necessary?
  • Are you reimagining what success and your brand profile will be as a director, or are you assuming nothing will change?
  • Are you seeking the advice and guidance of a mentor, colleagues, and your networks to explore the move, or are you going it alone?
  • Are you assessing the skills, practices, and qualities you will need to be a successful leader in this new emerging world or are you assuming what has made you successful to date will ensure you are successful going forward?
  • Will making a move into governance give you what you really want in your life or reduce it? Will a move degenerate you or regenerate you?

Finally, will a move from executive to director allow you to be your best, to enhance your success and wellbeing, to make a strong worthy contribution and perhaps to leave a sound legacy? 


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About the author

Penny Wood is founder of Business for Life. A recognised expert with 25+ years’ experience in leadership and adult development and change.

She has been a confidential coach and thinking partner to leaders in their most critical times of

Penny is an experienced facilitator having worked internationally with boards, executives and teams across a range sectors. Her focus has been on enhancing healthy work practices, strong business performance and shaping the leadership required for the future.

The views expressed in this article do not reflect the position of the IoD unless explicitly stated.

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