One night my wife and I were having one of those big conversations, looking at what we were involved in across our professional and personal lives, discussing if there were other things we felt we should be doing.
The environment was one area I was really keen to explore to see if there was something tangible I could do to make a positive impact; to feel I was making a difference rather than just feeling guilty about not doing enough.
The very next day – in that seemingly serendipitous way of the internet – I spotted a post on Twitter saying the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) was recruiting for new board members. I sent it to my wife and she told me to go for it.
I downloaded the application pack, but I thought that they were going to need someone with extensive environmental experience and asked myself what could I offer?
As I watched the videos that accompanied the pack and saw the wealth of experience of existing board members, so as a young business man I had doubts.
But then I took a pause and remembered that I wanted to step out of my comfort zone.
Joining an external board is an invaluable, challenging and rewarding way for any business leader to do just that.
Even the process of writing the application form helped me learn more about myself, my leadership style and skills. It was also an experience to do an interview – as the owner of my own business I haven’t done one in years from that side of the table.
Since I joined the SEPA board in January last year I have brought an additional skill set and perspective that has encouraged members to have different conversations, asking and answering questions that perhaps might not have been considered before.
I’m a people person and building trust among the teams I work with is a priority for me.
When I joined the board, we managed to have our first two meetings in person but, of course, since then they have all been virtual. I have focused on building relationships between board members old and new and further strengthening collaboration.
My background in IT also means I’m well-versed in agile working and this has had a positive impact on how the board has approached its work, not least around the major issues of Covid-19 and the cyber attack the organisation suffered in December last year.
The agile approach really helps you to focus, making sure the right questions are being asked at the right time.
While, despite my initial worries, I have undoubtedly been able to add value to the board, what I have learned in return is immeasurable.
It is of real benefit to anyone in a c-suite role in the private sector to step into a different environment and allow themselves to be challenged.
It’s not the same in the day job – no matter how open a leader you are, ask yourself will your employees really challenge you?
It’s a different dynamic sitting on an external board. I’ve been shown my weaknesses, for example, that I sometimes need to take a harder stance and push for decisions. I’ve learned more about myself to become a better business leader.
I’ve also enjoyed learning about a new field of expertise. While I had limited experience of the environment, I have studied the foundations to ensure I can correctly understand and advise on the areas in which SEPA operates.
Equally, in my role with Utopia Computers, my focus is on doing and delivering. In a non-executive role, it is to advise, scrutinise and check. That has been an interesting switch to make.
Diversity is crucial to SEPA when it comes to board recruitment and that includes diversity of career backgrounds. Bringing my private sector experience to a public sector board has been both surprising and rewarding.
There is a perception that the public sector is somewhere innovation doesn’t happen easily or quickly. That is not the case with SEPA; through the pandemic and cyber attack the pace of change the organisation has adopted has been phenomenal.
The public sector tends to be very strong strategically, but there comes a point where planning must turn into implementation. Although I have always witnessed SEPA moving with pace, a business mindset can bring that additional drive to take things to the next stage.
In addition, having a private sector perspective can help break down barriers between business and regulators allowing SEPA to be a greater catalyst for good.
My final advice to those considering taking on a non-executive position – you don’t know if you don’t try. I would be a poorer leader in my own business if I hadn’t taken the plunge.
SEPA is currently recruiting for two new board members, with the deadline of 26 July.
Craig Hume is a managing director at Utopia Computers and now a SEPA board member