Keeping the boardroom moving with WD40 – what they don’t teach company secretaries at business school

WD40, the trademark name of the penetrating oil, and water-displacing, spray, may seem an odd subject in a discussion about governance inside UK boardrooms.  But it was one of the reflections offered by Amanda Mellor,  Group Secretary and Head of Corporate Governance at M&S, speaking to the recent dinner of the Leadership Development Programme.

Amanda outlined what she had learnt from her years advising the board of the iconic High-Street retailer, as well as the perspective she had developed from the other side of the boardroom table as a non-executive director at Kier Group.  Company Secretaries looking to secure the top job, read on.

1. People psychology is important – develop your antennae in terms of what is said, and what is not said

2. The Wizard of Oz – become the perceived source of the solution, both for the board, and for the business

3. Understand that shades of grey are important – stay open-minded

4. Boardrooms are full of big egos – learn how to manage your boss, and the other personalities around the table

5. Stay neutral – be aware of political agendas, otherwise people will use you

6. Bring your WD40 with you – useful for oiling the wheels in the boardroom

7. Value the long-term perspective, be patient, and encourage the same mindset among those around you

8. What you do must stand the test of time – your minutes (the ultimate in the dark arts) will become the organisation’s institutionalised memory

9. Pitch your battles carefully, because you won’t win them all

10. Don’t be the governance bureaucrat – think broadly about the business challenge and advise in a way that adds value

11. Grab the territory you want to occupy – the company secretary has an unparalleled opportunity to create her or his own space

12. Regularly move out of your shell – it’s lonely at the top, so network internally as well as externally

13. Be(come) visible by adding value in the business, for example by offering services such as director  training sessions

14. Communicate well and often – no surprises

15. Secure yourself access to the boardroom by looking for opportunities – don’t wait to be asked

16. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable – move out of that comfort zone

17. Be aware of your impact, and the effect of your behaviours – your colleagues are looking at you

18. Understand you have exposure at a high level – you carry huge responsibility

19. Be a voice in the boardroom

20. Think about the skills you are acquiring for your own development and take ownership of your own career

Some themes in here, but all worthwhile points for adding value to the Company Secretary’s role of governance leadership and developing the governance health of the board.

Which  points resonate most with you?