The Seven Deadly Sins of New and Aspiring NEDs – Frightening the CEO


Few people start their careers, aspiring to be a Non-Executive Director. If you have the drive, the determination and the tenacity – the chances are you’ll have spent your career pushing towards, and achieving CXO status. To do this, you’ll have asserted yourself in some way, perhaps a typical “alpha” male or female. The one who inspires his / her team, drives organisational change and creates an environment in which people thrive.

Naturally then, when the time comes for you to pursue a Non-Executive Director career – you’ll believe that you have what it takes to excel. In many ways you do. You’ve got the strategic mindset – the wealth of experience and no doubt the industry knowledge. So why then, are you not able to “seal the deal” when it comes to securing your chosen NED role?

“The market is saturated” is a common belief. “There’s too many aspiring NEDs and not nearly enough relevant NED opportunities on the market” you might be thinking – and to an extent, that is true. Finding suitable roles feels like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Many of the vacancies advertised are often not interesting enough and those that are, are oversubscribed with applicants.
Worse still, on paper – competing applicants might look as equally qualified for the role as you. What that means – if you get an interview – is that you’ll need to demonstrate, not just that you were an exceptional CXO, but also that you will make an exceptional Non-Executive Director. It’s a completely different way of thinking and, possibly, will go against the grain of the core trait that has enabled your success.

You will have to stop trying to be the smartest person in the room during interviews.

The role of a NED is not to be the assertive leader, but to support that person. Anyone choosing to display so called alpha behaviour during an interview is likely to be seen as a threat rather than an asset. They’re unlikely to be successful, regardless of their experience or skillset.

There’s an art in reassuring the CEO that he or she shouldn’t feel threatened by your experience and your capabilities. ‘Avuncular’ is a perfect word to describe the right attitude to adopt – reassuring, safe, and wise. Leaning forward at an interview and behaving like an aggressive CEO is a common mistake. Avuncular NEDs are much more likely to sit back and be prepared to listen, rather than demand that they are heard first.

If you want to build a NED portfolio you must go through the painful process of deciding on a purpose and strategy appropriate to that goal. This will be different than the strategy you used to become a CXO. One that is no longer about being at the very top of the leadership hierarchy.

To learn more about how to secure Non-Executive Director roles in a crowded marketplace, sign up for one of my upcoming NED workshops.

Ciaran Fenton

September 2016


Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my LinkedIn profile or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335


For aspiring Non-Executive Directors

How to secure Non-Executive Director roles in a crowded marketplace

Small Change: how to work, lead or follow in the 21st Century

small changes

I am writing a book. I will be publishing sections as blogs as I write it. I would be grateful for comments, questions and feedback as I proceed.  Below is a draft introduction.

Draft Introduction

Everything in the world of work seems to be changing; yet sometimes it feels like nothing at all has changed.

Career decisions are not getting any easier; securing work experience is challenging, and job finding is still a lottery. Investment in personal training and development remains patchy; bullying is still rife and is often institutional. The concepts of human capital assets and resources are still at the heart of organisational theory even though most people don’t believe they apply to them.

For business leaders, contextual stresses have worsened: their first hundred days in a new role, starting a new business, delivering rapid growth, managing complex change or restructure, being bought out, redundancy and finding non-executive directorships – are all fraught with risk.

Nevertheless, the opportunities to have fulfilling and rewarding careers have never been better. Social changes, economic development and, latterly, social media have made this possible. Everyone can now, in theory, be what they can or, with apologies to Maslow, should be.

So why isn’t it all much easier than it was? My belief is that that organisational practice and theory have failed to keep pace with reality. Many schools, universities, and organisations still cleave to behaviour and methods that are outdated.

This failure is understandable. The pace of change in the last twenty-five years or so has been unprecedented. It didn’t come with instructions. In fact, the temptation to revert to old comfortable ways in the face of complexity has, for some, been irresistible.

Writers and commentators are wrestling with these issues in books, blogs and podcasts.  I want to add this book as my contribution to the debate and to share my experiences of working with scores of leaders and organisations over many years. I have also developed a model based on these case studies.

The title of the book is Small change: how to work, lead or follow in the 21st. Century. My core message is that changing just ten actions out of every hundred is only 10% change. That’s small change.

But because we are unique individuals – literally 1/7 billion regarding our uniqueness on the planet – these small changes can have a unique and much bigger impact on ourselves and on those around us than we imagine.

People at work are unique career businesses. Organisations are joint ventures of these for brief periods. This book is about the interdependence between individual purpose and organisational purpose and how small changes in behaviour supports it.

Chapter 1 sets out how the world of work has changed and how you and organisations might best respond to these changes. For example, I propose that CEOs take on the role of human resource directors who in turn should become Chiefs of Staff. I also set out a model for ensuring that personal and organisational purposes remain healthily interdependent.

Chapter 2 is about the seven things everyone should know about business and sometimes don’t; Chapter 3 is about turning the job finding process from a lottery to a certainty, one way or another.  Chapter 4 is about your First 100 Days in a new leadership role and how to follow a leader and manage upwards. Chapter 5 is about how best, as a leader, to manage relationships across and down. Chapter 6 is about managing your Last 100 Days to ensure a good exit. Chapter 7 is about life after work and addresses what I call The 7 Deadly Sins of Nascent NEDS – i.e. non-executive directors. There are Appendices including one on the special role, purpose and difficulties facing General Counsel.

I hope that leaders, followers and commentators find Small Change useful.

Ciaran Fenton

August 2016


Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my LinkedIn profile or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335


For CEOs /CFOs and Legal Leadership…

#LegalWithTheBusiness – A One Day 50/50 Workshop for GCs and “The Business”…

For aspiring Non-Executive Directors

The 7 Deadly Sins of Nascent NEDs – A One Day Workshop at the IOD, London