The seven deadly sins of board directors

The seven deadly sins of board directors

If you’re looking for your first non-executive directorship, you can learn as much from these bad board behaviours as good ones.

Here are the ‘seven deadly sins’ to avoid if you don’t want to wind-up your fellow directors when you join them around the board room table.

To find out more about how best to step up to a non-executive directorship for the first time, and the mindset that will get you there, download ‘A guide to getting your first non-executive director role’ from Odgers Berndtson executive search.


We start with the non-executive who takes up more than their share of airtime, sucks the oxygen out of the boardroom, and really, really loves the sound of their own voice. Unsurprisingly, they are rarely heeded by the rest of those around the table.


As bad as the chatterbox is the director who is silent. You get an invite to join a Board because of the contribution you’ll make. But your strategic insights or operational nous are useless if no-one hears them. So, speak up. (But do remember when to shut up.)


Meet the independent director who is a prisoner of their executive career. Usually start their contributions with the words: ‘In my day’. Groans all round!


This one is only after one thing: show how clever they are. An impossible attitude when the whole point of a board is that executive and non-executive members work collectively to set strategic direction and solve problems. These ‘stars’ do not enjoy long and successful portfolio careers.


It soon becomes pretty obvious which board directors have actually read, digested and thought about the board papers. Versus those who only skimmed them on the way to the meeting. You definitely don’t want to be the latter.


Woody Allen once said that “80 per cent of life is showing up”. For independent directors, only 100 per cent will do. If you can’t make the meetings, it’s simple: don’t take the job. So, no more “Actually, would it be okay if I joined the June board meeting by phone?”


Great directors put the business first. Bad ones think about themselves and their reputations. So, when the going gets rough, good boards pull together. Bad boards fall apart because too many directors aren’t prepared to weather the storms.

For more information about the good behaviours that could potentially get you onto the first rung of the board directorship ladder, download our free guide.

It’s full of practical tips and advice drawn from our experience as a global executive search company that sees up to 50 000 CVs a year and places directors at some of the world’s biggest companies.

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