‘You can teach a skill, but not attitude,’ says Non-Executive Director of the Year 2019

Director of the Year Awards Lesley Cowley

Every day in the approach to Christmas, we’ll speak to winners from the recent finals of IoD Director of the Year Awards. Today it’s Lesley Cowley OBE, chair of Companies House and the DVLA, who won the Non-Executive category

Cowley’s CV features a long list of board roles, including that of CEO at domain-name registry Nominet UK in 2004-14. In 2008 she founded the Social Tech Trust, a charity that has so far provided more than £31 million to social ventures aimed at improving people’s lives with technology. Adding to her portfolio of non-executive directorships at government agencies in October 2019, she became chair of the National Archives.

Who has inspired you the most in business? “Stephen Covey, who taught me to ‘start with the end in mind’. I still have my ‘personal vision board’.”

What is the best piece of career guidance you’ve ever received? “The principal of the further education college I was working at encouraged me to get an MBA. As someone who’d gone straight into work from school at 17, I was the only member of the college management team who hadn’t been to university. I took her advice, even though it meant that I had to study while holding down a full-time job and bringing up a baby. I still draw on my MBA knowledge and tools today.”

What advice would you offer less experienced leaders about navigating turbulent times? “I’m a business agony aunt in my spare time. My usual advice is: weather the storm by getting busy with the tasks you’ve been postponing and then preparing for better times, but don’t forget to take care of yourself and your people.”

What’s the secret to building a great team? “Recruit people with the right attitude who can work well together. You can teach anyone a skill, but not attitude.”

What’s the most important leadership lesson you have learnt so far? “It’s impossible to over-communicate during a period of profound change.”

What are your aspirations for 2020? “To learn glass-blowing, to finish writing my book and to keep calm and carry on.”


Entries are now open for the 2020 IoD Director of the Year Awards – click here for more info and to nominate


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Director magazine

Director magazine

Director is the magazine for business leaders. Free to IoD members and available to purchase through subscription, each edition is full of insightful interviews with entrepreneurs and company directors.

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