If You Don’t Like Where You Are, Move. You Are Not a Tree.

First time non-executive director

As the founder of Virtualnonexecs and having advised literally thousands of non-executive directors over the past decade, I’ve witnessed a curious phenomenon. Many professionals tell me about their ambition to build a rich portfolio of clients as a NED, yet find themselves rooted in inaction. It reminds me of a simple, yet profound saying, “If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree.” Unlike trees, we have the gift of mobility and choice in our careers, something I often emphasise in my consultations.

Confronting the Paralysis of Inaction

It’s a scenario I see all too often: individuals dreaming of a diverse NED portfolio, yet their aspirations don’t translate into action. This paralysis is a major roadblock. I always tell them, success in the NED world is more like a proactive spring than a passive autumn. You must plant and nurture the seeds of your opportunities.

Taking the First Step

I advise first time NEDs that recognising the need for action is the first step to growth. Developing a NED career requires dedication – it’s about networking, continuous learning, and actively seeking opportunities. This might mean enhancing your boardroom skills through specific courses, attending industry events, or leveraging platforms like ours to connect with potential opportunities.

Nurturing Your Portfolio

I often liken building a NED portfolio to tending a garden. It’s a process that demands patience, commitment, and a readiness to face new challenges. But it’s more than just about being patient; it’s about being proactive. You need to explore unfamiliar industries and roles, push the boundaries of your comfort zone, and continuously adapt to different corporate environments.

In my conversations with prospective members, I recall one individual who approached this journey with a different mindset. They wanted a shortcut to success, hoping to pay for a guaranteed role. This is a common misconception I encounter. Unfortunately, the world of non-executive directorship doesn’t operate like that. Despite there being some businesses that promise a panacea of opportunities for a fee, this approach rarely yields meaningful results. It’s akin to trying to force a plant to grow faster by overwatering it – the intent might be right, but the method is fundamentally flawed.

The truth is, there are no shortcuts to cultivating a successful NED career. It’s not a commodity to be bought but a position to be earned through dedication, skill, and the right networking. Just as a gardener doesn’t pay for the sun to shine or the rain to fall, a budding NED cannot simply buy their way into a position. The richness of a portfolio comes from the diversity of experience, the depth of knowledge, and the breadth of relationships cultivated over time.

This is why at Virtualnonexecs, we focus on providing the tools and community support to grow organically in your NED career, rather than offering an unrealistic fast track to success. Building a portfolio is an investment in oneself, requiring time, effort, and genuine engagement with the industry and peers. Just as a garden needs time to flourish, so does a NED career.

The Power of Networking

In my decade(s) of experience, I’ve seen networking act as a powerful catalyst for portfolio career growth. It’s not merely about meeting new people; it’s about cultivating meaningful relationships, exchanging knowledge, and learning from others. Many opportunities in the NED world stem from these connections, often in the most unexpected ways.

A Personal Reflection

From my own journey into the board advisory space, which was paved through multiple exits of various businesses to private equity and trade buyers, I’ve gained invaluable insights. In advising other NEDs, a key lesson I’ve imparted is the importance of movement and adaptability.

You are not a tree, confined to one spot; you are a dynamic, capable individual who can navigate your career path as I did mine.

This journey has taught me the significance of being proactive and adaptable in the face of change, qualities that are essential in any business landscape. It’s time to embrace this mindset of active engagement. So, make that move – just as I navigated my path.


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