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Live well, work well: The Role of Non-Executive Director

Updated: Sep 22

People want to live well and work well.


This is the start of a series of articles on the subject of living well and working well. Many people strive to achieve the perfect work-life balance and this series will address this topic from a variety of perspectives and provide insights into how you can live well and work well. This first article begins with exploring a career change choice that some of my clients have been making - choosing to become a Non-Executive Director to achieve their desired balance and start to live well and work well.

Much of my work in coaching, leadership and organisational development starts with people. When you help and individual to work happily and effectively, you begin to create a thriving business or not-for-profit organisation. When you start with people, you help them unlock potential and bring inside-out change to an organisation so that people can live well and work well.

Recently, my coaching has focused on helping people make significant transitions in their careers and achieve a better work-life balance. They want to live well and work well. I’ve helped people who want to have greater autonomy and control over their working life and pursue the flexibility of portfolio careers. Others want to explore becoming a Non-Executive Director (NED) and develop a portfolio of two or three Non-Executive roles. Our coaching relationship then focuses on supporting them to achieve that goal – living well and working well.

At first, the flexibility and autonomy that a Non-Executive Director role provides is very inviting and can be seen to provide the ideal work-life balance. However, it is crucial to understand the requirements of these roles to be able to judge how demanding an individual might find them. Moving from the Executive side of the board table to the non-executive side of the table is not always as easy as it may seem.

There is no shortage of reading materials on the role of a NED, so I have sought here to distil the four core responsibilities of a NED into this simple matrix:



Governance is concerned with having a strong focus on regulatory and legal compliance. An independent NED must seek assurance that the organisation is compliant with all relevant legislation. An independent NED can review the information and data presented to them and decide how assured they feel. As part of this role, the NED is also required to check and be assured that there is an appropriate governance architecture in place that provides clear lines of accountability and visibility of compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements for an organisation. A robust governance architecture combined with appropriate questioning and challenge from a NED can ensure that gaps in governance can be identified, understood and therefore rectified. NEDs must have a clear sight of and a solid grip on key assurance and corporate risks and know how they are being mitigated and managed. It is also essential for a board to understand where the organisation is compliant and even where there are challenges to achieving or maintaining compliance when there are changes to legislation that affects the business. Sometimes an organisation is non-compliant with relevant legislation, and it is vital that NEDs are aware of such risks and can seek assurance that this is being appropriately managed, with a clear plan to achieve compliance.


Strategy is concerned with having a strong focus on regulatory and legal compliance. An independent NED must seek assurance that the organisation is compliant with all relevant legislation. An independent NED can review the information and data presented to them and decide how assured they feel. As part of this role, the NED is also required to check and be assured that there is an appropriate governance architecture in place that provides clear lines of accountability and visibility of compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements for an organisation. A robust governance architecture combined with appropriate questioning and challenge from a NED can ensure that gaps in governance can be identified, understood, and therefore rectified. NEDs must have clear sight of and a solid grip on key assurance and corporate risks and know how they are being mitigated and managed. It is also essential for a board to understand where the organisation is compliant and even where there are challenges to achieving or maintaining compliance when there are changes to legislation that affects the business. Sometimes an organisation is non-compliant with relevant legislation, and it is vital that NEDs are aware of such risks and can seek assurance that this is being appropriately managed, with a clear plan to achieve compliance.


All strategies need to have a clear way to measure success. NEDs should be assured that there are appropriate metrics, measurements, KPIs, and milestones in place. These are the metrics that they will use to monitor the delivery of the strategy. All strategies need to be resourced, and it is the responsibility of the NEDs to seek assurance that it is adequately resourced. Key considerations here include: does the strategy align with the financial plan and proposed cashflow? Does the organisation have the right knowledge, skills, expertise and workforce to deliver the strategy? The resourcing of the strategy needs to be considered from a broad perspective. As the strategy is being delivered, a supportive NED will hold the Executive Team to account for the delivery of the strategy and celebrate and acknowledge success. They will also challenge failure and lack of delivery.


Leadership is key to an organisation’s success. NEDs must lead by example. A NED’s behaviour sets the tone for the culture of the organisation, and it is crucial to set a good example and model the values of the organisation through one’s own behaviour and that of the Executive Team. Behaviours in the boardroom set the tone for what happens throughout the organisation. NEDs must hold each other to account for their behaviour as well as holding the Executive Team to account for theirs.

More recently, there is a strong emphasis on visible leadership for NEDs. As a part of your role, you should be able to triangulate information to be assured that things are as they appear. A great way of doing this is by being visible at all levels of the organisation. This includes ‘walking the shop floor’ and speaking to staff, customers and stakeholders. Be aware of your behaviour and its impact on others. Demonstrate the organisation’s values in all your interactions with staff, customers and stakeholders. When challenging Executives, ensure that it is in a manner that fosters collaboration, openness, and accountability. NEDs should seek to create a supportive and constructive climate in the boardroom that builds accountability and transparency. This will then permeate throughout the organisation. Finally, it is important to challenge and hold people to account for behaviours that do not align with the organisation’s values and culture.


Finance is a core responsibility of all NEDs. While there will always be a Finance NED on a board, the responsibility is equal for all NEDs. It is important to recognise that even as a non-finance NED, you are legally responsible for the financial health of the organisation and ensuring compliance with all legal and financial reporting requirements. It is essential to seek assurance that appropriate accounting processes and procedures are in place to protect all financial resources.

All strategies need to have a clear way to measure success. NEDs should be assured that there are appropriate metrics, measurements, KPIs, and milestones in place. These are the metrics that they will use to monitor the delivery of the strategy. All strategies need to be resourced, and it is the responsibility of the NEDs to seek assurance that it is adequately resourced. Key considerations here include: does the strategy align with the financial plan and proposed cashflow? Does the organisation have the right knowledge, skills, expertise, and workforce to deliver the strategy? The resourcing of the strategy needs to be considered from a broad perspective. As the strategy is being delivered, a supportive NED will hold the Executive Team to account for the delivery of the strategy and celebrate and acknowledge success. They will also challenge failure and lack of delivery.


yellowchair provides executive and career coaching supporting people to make significant career transitions and delivery high- performance. The aim is to help people to live well and work well, so that they are leading the life they want.


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