"A board is like an orchestra": Sam Mostyn on high-performing boards

Wednesday, 25 October 2017


    Sam Mostyn MAICD, Non-Executive Director of the Sydney Swans, Mirvac and Transurban, explains how humility, open-mindedness and conducting skills will be increasingly valuable attributes for board members.

    At the launch of the new-look Company Director magazine, accomplished director, Sam Mostyn shared her thoughts on what it means to have a new director mindset. Having recently been interviewed and featured on the cover of the magazine on the same topic, Mostyn had great insights to share about the skills that boards of the future would look for.

    Top of the list was humility. Companies have failed because of hubris, she said, so directors must keep learning, challenge themselves and fellow board members, and be on the lookout for hubristic behaviour.

    Self-awareness and being conscious of shortcomings were high on the list; what doesn’t the board understand, and how can those gaps be filled? Diversity around the boardroom fit into this theme, with Mostyn explaining that any boards not looking at diversity are missing out on the richness of conversation that comes from varied perspectives.

    Open mindedness, especially for Chairs, is a key skill in Mostyn’s eyes. She recounted the story of a Chair coming out of a meeting, saying to her “I’m coming out of this meeting with a very different set of understandings and decisions that what I thought we’d be having.” Mostyn described this as “one of the loveliest conversations I had with a Chair… his ability to listen and challenge his own mindset meant that they ended up with a better outcome for the business.”

    Having a vision for the long-term was the final takeaway for directors from Mostyn. Caving to short-term pressures may seem tempting at times, but thinking long-term is an instrumental skill for directors in a complex and rapidly changing world. 

    Collaborative ability will be increasingly sought after, said Mostyn, suggesting that traditional “us-and-them” view of sectors is stifling productivity and must be stamped out. Cross-sector collaboration will help board to identify where value is, and shared learnings will make for stronger performance.

    With a nod to her role as Chair at Carriageworks, Mostyn said that boards are like orchestras in that they are a collection of exceptionally talented people, all with their own strengths to bring to the table. It is the Chair’s job to bring them together and help them to work together in harmony.

    Sam Mostyn will be deliver a keynote speech at the 2018 Australian Governance Summit  on the evolving role of directors in a world experiencing rapid change.

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