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EQ in the boardroom

EQ is an area I have always wanted to explore, and understand better.

Even more so when Jack Ma, Alibaba founder, told the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York in September 2017 that “If you want to be respected, you need IQ, EQ and also LQ.” “And what is LQ? The quotient of love, which machines never have.” “A machine does not have a heart, a machine does not have soul, and a machine does not have a belief. Human beings have the souls, have the belief, have the values.”

Isn’t it also true that, for business leaders to be respected, and to succeed, they need to connect to other people? They need EQ – Emotional Quotient. Andrew Colman, Professor of Psychology, describes EQ as ‘the capability of individuals to recognise their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).’ Jessica Moore, the US lifestyle coach, observed perceptively “There are no good and bad emotions. They all bring vital messages, and are key to our emotional intelligence.”

This article is not the place to go into all the studies exploring which of IQ or EQ (and now EQ) is the more important factor in determining the strength and success of leaders. But as Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently”.

The importance of EQ in the boardroom was brought home this week when Alison Kay, Group General Counsel and Company Secretary at National Grid PLC, a FTSE20 company, spoke at the Leadership Development Programme and Networking Club* in London.

Alison emphasised how important it was for the company secretary to be able to look around the boardroom, understand what was really going on, and advise the chairman, board directors, and senior executives on a range of issues – how directors were getting on with each other, whether an approach wasn’t working and needed changing, when something was about to become an issue but hadn’t been sufficiently registered, managing the relationship between the board and the executive, and so on. All EQ-driven actions.

Alison talked about how getting into the top role could involve luck – ‘right place, right time’ – but how such luck could be engineered by taking risks; accepting new opportunities as they arrived (unexpectedly); being prepared to move out of role; following instinct; using your strengths and working to your areas for development; and never doubting your ability.

She pointed out that there would always be setbacks and pushback, but that it was in how you responded to the mistakes you made that defined you. In shades of Maya Angelou, she remarked that your colleagues won’t notice – and won’t care – about your failings, if you treat them with respect. It was necessary to trust colleagues, when asking for help. And that developing the strength and depth of the team was a critical business priority.

In no particular order, company secretaries needed to build their networks; keep abreast of developments; maintain their sense of humour; be agile; communicate to the business the importance and significance of their role, and that of the Secretariat; and be able to cope with ambiguity.

The list of requirements to succeed was long. But although the role could be ‘lonely at the top’, the rewards of having the ear of the chairman, and being able to work with the board to help it create value, were significant.

But of all the attributes which Alison mentioned, it was the reference to EQ which stood out for me. “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen”, Ernest Hemingway said. Like the father and son in the image at the top of this article, listening well, recognising your own emotions and those of others, using emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and managing and/or adjusting emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s), is a set of critical skills – in our personal lives, and our professional lives.

* The Leadership Development Programme provides coaching, mentoring and Networking Club dinners to help colleagues reach the ‘next level’. It offers individuals the opportunity to develop and differentiate themselves, and their career, in a challenging professional environment.

If you would like to know more about the Programme, or the Club, please contact me on 07739 088208 and

The next dinner is on 18 September 2018 in central London. The event is full – please contact me if you would like to join the waiting list.


The best job in the boardroom?

Over thirty company secretaries and governance professionals met this week at the Leadership Development Programme and Networking Club* dinner in London, to listen to Jane Earl FCIS reflect on her career, and lead a discussion on how company secretaries can become more effective players in the boardroom.

Jane’s thirty-year career had taken her through a number of roles, principally in financial services, and increasingly in the top job. She had then worked for six years as the Company Secretary of BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the broadcaster, and was now the Company Secretary of the CDC Group, one of the Government’s principal vehicles for investing in developing country projects. Jane’s deep levels of experience, and the fact that she was also a qualified coach, made her observations meaningful, and the subsequent discussion insightful.

Key points which Jane made were that

  1. You can never have too much technical experience – that is the fundamental basis of what the company secretary has to offer
  2. It is particularly valuable to develop niche expertise (a common theme in the dinners – do something once and you become an expert, and indispensable). Be brave and take risks, be prepared to say “Yes, I’ll do that” – your profile will increase
  3. Judge whether you have the right attributes – patience, pragmatism, a sense of humour, a thick skin. Are you strategic and flexible? Do you plan ahead, and do you prioritise?
  4. Start every task, and every project, by asking “what are we trying to achieve by doing this?” Always think “How am I going to add value?”
  5. People are more important than the task – make developing the team the priority. Divide your time into 60% team, 40% technical
  6. Keep relationships healthy, and learn from everyone. In particular, build the relationship with the Chair and CEO, and other stakeholders such as the NEDs, auditors, lawyers, and your sponsor/champion
  7. Governance is a business-critical activity. Someone has to own it – make that you
  8. Be(come) the eyes and the ears of the organisation
  9. Be(come) a best-in-class operator, in HR terms the ‘thoroughbred’, or the ‘racing driver’
  10. Take networking** seriously. NETWORKING IS OXYGEN – it is a business-critical activity, which you can control, and which will significantly increase the probability of that ‘lucky break’. You create your own ‘luck’ – networking is one of the ways of doing it

The subsequent discussion generated the following key take-aways

  1. It was important to develop experience of other parts of the business, and become business-savvy
  2. The company secretary’s access to people and information allows them to join the dots in a way that few others in the organisation can
  3. The role involves challenge, but offers fantastic opportunity
  4. Bearing all these points in mind – both Jane’s contribution, and those from colleagues in the room – being the company secretary is an enormous privilege.

Maybe the best job in the boardroom?

* The Leadership Development Programme provides coaching, mentoring and Networking Club dinners to help colleagues reach the ‘next level’. It offers individuals the opportunity to develop and differentiate themselves, and their career, in a challenging professional environment. If you would like to know more about the Programme, or the Club, please contact me on 07739 088208 and

** For the value-add of networking please click here


The Chartered Secretary profession at the crossroads

In my previous post, I talked about the proposal by the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) to introduce a new qualification, that of Chartered Governance Professional.

The debate has now been had – in meetings around the world, and on LinkedIn. I am grateful to Peter Swabey, Policy and Research Director at ICSA in the UK, for attending a dinner of the Leadership Development Programme* to explain the Institute’s views.

From a UK and Irish (and maybe an Associated Territories?) perspective, the following points strike me as the most salient:

Something needs to be done to arrest the rapid decline of the profession’s membership

The proposals for boosting membership – the creation of a Chartered Governance Professional scheme and extension of affiliate membership – are good in theory, but not necessarily straightforward in implementation

The Institute did itself no favours by presenting the proposals as a fait accompli, and inviting members to briefing meetings, to be followed by a vote at the AGM – offering no opportunity to shape the agenda. While such an approach may have been acceptable in other parts of the world, the failure to organise an initial consultation rankles

The proposals are not evidence-based (there has not been any market testing of the proposals in the UK and Ireland) and there has been no research conducted to model the benefits or disadvantages – the welcome progress made by Australian colleagues in introducing similar ideas in their jurisdiction may not be more widely applicable

That said, if either scheme is voted through it will be on a permissive basis, allowing the UK and Ireland freedom to implement or not, and/or maybe to amend the proposals to their liking. Such flexibility is helpful. The disadvantage is that the global brand will potentially be diluted as different territories pursue different approaches

This raises the issue of the brand itself and the position, in the market, of the Institute, its members, the qualification, and the work we do – will the new qualification add lustre to the brand, or create confusion; will it complement, or cannibalise, existing membership?

The new qualification will remove the much-disliked term of ‘Secretary’, but the use of the term ‘Professional’ is equally problematic – no other profession feels the need to include the term in its description/title

Combining the terms, to create the title of ‘Chartered Secretary and Governance Professional’, might partially resolve these conflicts

Modules in the new qualification, or in the existing qualification if its title were changed, need careful (re)consideration

Increased marketing, outreach and relationship building by the (UK) Institute continues to be identified by UK colleagues as the priority – irrespective of what happens with the vote

The affiliate scheme may be more straightforward in its application, and it already exists in this part of the world – but its introduction is not without controversy, and it would be useful to have the chance to review the scheme and its operation so far

In conclusion, we do not have a sufficiently-informed set of proposals, particularly in relation to the Chartered Governance Professional qualification, to allow for an informed decision/vote, with sufficient visibility of the potential outcomes

In these circumstances, a vote in favour would represent a leap in the dark, an act of solidarity with international colleagues who feel they need these proposals to develop strategies to grow the profession in their local jurisdictions

This might be worth the risk if

1. Colleagues feel sufficiently comfortable with possible downsides affecting the brand locally, in the UK and Ireland

2. There is a formal consultation process in the UK and Ireland after the vote, with members empowered to decide how they want the profession developed locally

In the face of such high levels of VUCA – volatility, uncertainly, complexity and ambiguity – that we are having a discussion about the future of our profession is a silver lining to the cloud. But a cloud is still a cloud, and we are not out of it. The Institute needs to offer reassurance on points 1 and 2 above, for us to feel comfortable supporting such a radical set of proposals.

The Leadership Development Programme provides coaching, mentoring and networking dinners to help colleagues reach the ‘next level’. It offers individuals the opportunity to develop and differentiate themselves, and their career, in a challenging professional environment.