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I am often asked the same question by General Counsel and senior lawyers, ‘how do I progress my career from here?’ Once you have reached senior leadership level, there are options, however the higher up the career ladder you go, the greater the competition as relevant roles tend to become fewer and far between. So, where do you go and what can do you do?
The most natural route to consider is an appropriate senior level appointment with a competitor or other company, often within your sector. Another is to move away from legal completely and some senior lawyers and General Counsel will want to explore opportunities within the business, outside of the legal department. A small few may even wish to pursue Chief Finance or Executive Officer roles.
Another way to find career satisfaction and also to distinguish yourself from the competition as you progress your career is via the Non-Executive Director or ‘NED’ route. Certainly, in recent times this is something I have found myself increasingly recommending.
Why? As senior lawyers and General Counsel, it is already a given that your communication skills are first class. If you have made it this far, you should be well established as a business leader and your regular interaction with the Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officers and other key stakeholders means that you already have the commercial nous, gravitas and executive presence required to operate at the most senior levels. You are probably a strategic thinker and your ability to anticipate and assess risk, coupled with strong financial management and corporate skills would suggest that you are a ‘visionary leader’ in many respects. You are already more than half way there.
Besides your legal skills, what other skills are generally sought? Perspective. Yours will likely be broad. You can offer useful insight, gained from first hand experience having worked in a variety or roles at management level and across multiple jurisdictions and business sectors. Your natural ‘business curiosity’ means that your interest and therefore contribution, is genuine and open. On the softer side, as a leader, you will likely be viewed as engaging, perhaps even charismatic and certainly someone with strong influencing and communication skills. In addition, your network will be superb. The majority of successful NED’s will generally have a strong and effective business network which really helps, both in terms of being able to connect key people across different businesses to achieve desired results, as well as demonstrating credibility.
All of this is good news indeed. In addition, it is well documented that the UK government is putting pressure on public companies to broaden the composition of their Boards. This position is increasingly supported across the media and Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, has encouraged companies to take a wider range of people onto their Boards. He has specifically mentioned academics, public servants and lawyers.
If you think you have some or most of these core skills, you may wish to consider joining a Board. Adding a Board appointment or Directorship to your CV won’t necessarily be the panacea for success; however it is a superb way of showcasing your skills and will almost certainly accelerate your career progression. Besides, it will open up your horizons and offer fulfilment in a way you never knew existed previously, making way for new personal and business opportunities.
There really are many excellent reasons for doing this. Here are just a few of the main ones:
1. Adding an NED appointment to your CV distinguishes you from the crowd when applying for new roles.
2. You will be given a perfect opportunity to enhance and further develop your career and leadership skills – not always available in your ‘day’ job.
3. It can provide continuity on your CV. This is especially important if you have had a career break or there is a gap in your CV. (This may be applicable to women in particular, post maternity leave. A recommended website for women in general is www.womenonboards.co.uk)
4. Being a NED suggests to management or clients that you are interested, as well as actively involved in your community at a leadership level, which is always a positive.
5. Enhances and further develops leadership skills and may be the ‘taster’ that helps you to explore the possibility of developing a post executive board or ‘portfolio’ career.
6. You will enjoy it! You can be a NED in many different types of organisation. Take time to select an organisation where you have a tangible interest and/or passion for the subject matter involved and really enjoy the experience of applying your skills in a completely different way.
For more information please contact Rachael North or visit our website BCL Legal.