Is governance training a must have for directors?

Co-founder & CEO of Future Directors Institute Paul Smith

One common belief among people working their way into the boardroom is that they need governance training qualifications. While I don’t want to denigrate governance training courses or those who have qualifications, the notion they are a necessary prerequisite to landing a board role is, quite frankly, untrue.

Before we talk about why governance training isn’t strictly necessary for would-be directors, let’s quickly bust myths around this belief.

Many believe that without a formal qualification they’ll be overlooked by boards. However, the reality is boards value expertise and experience over training. Out of our program faculty (all of whom are non-executive directors), fewer than half have governance training; likewise, of the people who go through our programs and land a board role, fewer than 20% have formal governance training.

Another misconception around the need for governance training is that without it you won’t have the financial and legal know-how to be effective. Of course, the need for this in the boardroom is vital, especially as it relates to your duties, but this can be learnt without going through formal training. Also, if you are a new director it’s highly unlikely you are being hired for your governance expertise.

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What’s more important than this knowledge and anything you can glean from governance training is your experience, how you work with others and your ability to think independently, question, challenge and be held accountable.

Perhaps the reason that so many people go through governance training is because they believe it will allow them to easily find board work. However, these courses fail to offer advice and tips on how to follow through and land a board role or the soft skills needed to excel once you become a director. We believe it’s important to show people the practical steps they need to follow to land a board role, and the skills they’ll need to succeed.

We encourage directors to include training in their career plan but we also encourage them to educate themselves in a range of topics to be better governors; digital marketing, crisis management and cyber-security. As non-executive directors you will be presented with strategies in these areas and you need to ensure you can assess the risks and opportunities for your company and its stakeholders.

Again, none of this is to say that governance training courses offer no value. They do. It’s just they’ll do little to help you find a director position in the first place. We believe they offer more for people already on a board, being more practical and less theoretical. But before you’ve even set foot into the director space, governance training can be a little abstract.

My advice is to understand what governance training courses can do for you specifically. If you spend time on research and you deem it a necessary step, then by all means go ahead. But if you sign up to a governance training course – even a credible and reputable one – without knowing all the facts, then you may be about to spend a large amount of money on something that doesn’t offer much in return.

Paul Smith is the Co-founder & CEO of Future Directors Institute, www.futuredirectors.com.au.