Confident, Competent, Considered? Recruiting The Lay Board Member
Person specifications for ‘Lay’ Public Appointments often require Board candidates to demonstrate ‘confidence’. Increasingly I wonder whether this quality by itself enhances board members’ contribution to the common good. Any confident Lay person might have a clear line and stick to it; but does this benefit the public? Or is it an obstacle to diversity in selection, continuing business as usual?
Perhaps Lay board members, even after they have a competent grasp of ‘the facts’, serve the public interest better when they as people are ‘considered’, rather than just ‘confident’. Involvement in decision-making by Lay board members is about being there in the public interest, not initially about being sure of one’s opinions.
There are people in history who have demonstrated supreme but arrogantly misplaced confidence in themselves; and even now this applies to some of those with the most power. Perhaps that doesn’t matter – it may even be an asset – in the private sector, where the sole aim is often the pursuance of profit. Profit is rarely however the single objective in matters of public interest.
Determination is better
Confidence in my book is an over-rated characteristic. Give me rather a person who can get to the bottom of things and then find a sensible way forward. Someone with determination and an open mind, until the time comes to make that mind up, see things through and deliver.
Certainty is rarely the order of the day in matters which require complex resolution. Underlying principles and leadership, of course; deep conviction that one is always right, no.
Listening is a seriously under-rated skill. Skills in seeking out the factors which drive a situation, and then resolving and moving forward, are also not dramatic front-page stuff; but in our complicated, always evolving world, these are the skills which matter.
Challenging, not confrontational
Perhaps the conviction that confidence is needed for a Lay person on a board is because that’s easy for selectors to deal with.
You can ascertain quickly that someone appears confident.
Ensuring however that potential appointees will, politely but determinedly, seek always to understand where the Board is coming from is a different matter. Your Lay member doesn’t need to be especially confident to do this; s/he just needs to be focused on the job in hand, and to believe it matters enough to persevere and do the task well.
Resolution and progress
That’s a more complicated scenario for others to deal with. I’d suggest however that it’s also the basis for a genuine eventual meeting of minds – which is one hopes what the whole ‘public involvement in policy’ thing is about.
The real requirement of Lay board members must be that they have core and determination, guided by a real intent to deliver
the best. Whether this is exactly the same as being ‘confident’ is another matter, as of course a good Chair – and there are many – understands.
An obstacle to diversity?
Whisper it to the HR people who routinely demand ‘confidence’ in job specs; the considered approach is quite often adopted by competent women. But could this also be said about the super-confident approach? How many women believe they’d fulfil a formal requirement to be ‘confident’?
Given concerns about obstacles to diversity in recruitment, are we on to something here?
What do you think?