Non-Executive Directors: A Tale of ‘Give and Take’ on the Boardroom Chessboard

advice for first time neds

Once upon a time, in the corporate jungle of the United Kingdom, there was a breed of creatures known as the ‘Non-Executive Directors,’ or ‘NEDs’ in the local vernacular. They were an unusual species, often plucked from the high branches of executive trees, with a brilliant plumage of skills and experience, and a hearty appetite for generous remuneration. Yet, there was a curious confusion in the ecosystem. Many NEDs had forgotten an age-old rule of the jungle: “To receive, one must first learn to give.”

In the world of NEDs, giving means bestowing their wealth of wisdom, insight and strategic thinking upon the companies they serve. A first-time NED is rather like a fledgeling leaving the nest for the first time, feeling their wings flutter with the thrill of independence. Yet, just as a fledgeling must first master the art of flying before it can swoop down and snatch its dinner, a NED must learn to add value before quoting their daily rate. And there’s the rub!

Many a new NED, swooning from their executive perch to the non-executive branch, misses this critical point. They march into the boardroom, still puffing out their executive feathers, and announce their daily rate with the audacity of a peacock in mating season. This would be fine if it weren’t for one teeny, tiny detail: they’ve yet to show the flock what they bring to the boardroom table.

They’re akin to a comedian who walks onto the stage, delivers the punchline, and then proceeds to explain the joke. It’s a classic case of putting the cart before the horse—or in this case, putting the bill before the brilliance. As the corporate ecosystem responds with a resounding “What the Dickens?”, these well-intentioned NEDs are left ruffling their feathers in bemusement.

The key to cracking the NED code is to remember that in this game of boardroom chess, giving is the opening move. Yes, dear NEDs, that means demonstrating your worth before you start calculating your worth.

Consider for a moment a NED who rolls up their sleeves, immerses themselves in the business, imparts pearls of wisdom, challenges assumptions, and helps to steer the corporate ship towards sunnier climes. Suddenly, their daily rate seems less of an audacious demand and more a worthy investment. The board nods in agreement, the corporate coffers open, and the NED, having given, can now graciously receive.

For all you budding NEDs out there, a word of advice: the boardroom is not a marketplace. And even if you are willing to sell your skills to the highest bidder, you need to demonstrate those skills before you do.

In the end, the principle is simple, almost childlike in its wisdom: give first, get later. So, all you first-time NEDs, before you dust off your abacus and start calculating your daily rate, ask yourself: “What value have I given today?” That way, when you finally do name your price, you’ll do so with the assurance of a job well done—and perhaps even a cheeky smile on your face.

The best NEDs understand that their role isn’t a tale of ‘give or take’, but rather a grand adventure of ‘give and take’. After all, in the corporate jungle, the best way to feather your nest is to make sure you’ve first spread your wings.


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