Increasingly, general counsel are at the core of organisations, but if they are to become chief executive, having a balanced view of commercial risks will be critical.
As a general rule, general counsel must “have their finger on the policy and regulatory pulse, be on alert for the latest risks, and can help ensure that the voice of risk is being heard loudly at the boardroom and management tables”, says Governance Institute CEO Megan Motto.
Such skills and experience can, she mused, make the GC well placed to be an organisation’s next CEO, particularly as the marketplace moves towards a post-pandemic environment.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Ms Motto said that the aforementioned responsibilities, together with an “agile outlook”, will prepare a GC should they wish to step up to the role of CEO.
“The GC absolutely should be called upon regularly to share their knowledge and assessments of evolving events such as the pandemic and its likely impact on an organisation, its staff and prospects. The GC brings sharp analysis, risk assessment and an acute awareness of current events to the boardroom table,” she outlined.
“On the flip side, GCs will need to take a more balanced view of commercial risk to make the innovation decisions organisations will need to not just survive, but thrive in a post-pandemic environment. Of course, a diverse management team is important, ideally with a mix of skills and backgrounds, and this must be part of any leadership considerations.”
Whether they are to assume the role of chief executive or not, the GC has to assume a front-facing role within an organisation in the looming “new normal”, she mused, given the professional and environmental challenges that organisations must contend with.
“While the pandemic and its fallout continue to dominate headlines, it is essential to remember that key issues such as diversity and climate change have not gone away. If anything, they now should be demanding more of our attention in order to not go backwards in 2020 – for both societal and business reasons,” she said.
“One of the biggest challenges for many businesses will be the continued (if not intensified) war for talent, and the demands of the workforce in terms of flexible and sophisticated work practices. Balancing the preferences of staff with the needs of the business in a sustainable way will have many ramifications – financial, legal and cultural – that must be considered.”
GCs must, Ms Motto submitted, “stay on the front foot at all times” when it comes to developing current issues, legislation, regulations, and also facilitate debate around such matters and then brief management and the board accordingly.
“Effective communication has come to the forefront this year as a key influencer of senior management and organisational direction so ensure you are communicating in a timely and effective manner,” she suggested.
“Cast forward and try to anticipate what may be around the corner. If you can remove or reduce any unpleasant surprises for your management team in this year of uncertainty, this is likely to be warmly welcomed.”