In a recent study of people on boards it was found that the majority had had a mentor at a crucial time in their career and many directors and CEOs still have a mentor.
The pressures facing boards, senior management and professionals have increased dramatically in recent years. Ironically, it is often at the most challenging stage of their careers that many senior professionals are left most unsupported. Often, top executives need support tailored to their particular requirement and focused on their issues. There is no doubt that intensive, individual and customised attention achieves great results. Research in the US and UK has shown that mentoring is a valuable part in supporting leaders. Mentoring is also important because it confronts inner-doubts that often result in avoidance of responsibility and decisions – disastrous in a fast -changing environment. It bridges the gap between theory and reality. Mentoring has four roles:
- Prescriptive – when used with a new CEO or board member.
- Persuasive – when the individual is willing to learn new skills.
- Collaborative – when two or more individuals are working together on a project.
- Confirmative – when the individual needs a confidential sounding board to develop their leadership capability.
Leadership mentoring can cut across all these but is mainly confirmative and aimed at senior people. What a mentor brings is guidance, a confidential sounding board, a critical friend and wisdom if experience has been accompanied with learning. Experience alone is not enough. In addition, mentoring gives you space and ‘time out’ to think about the bigger picture. Often the pressures of the day-to- day demands can obscure the road map to the future. A mentor should help you stand back to see the wood from the trees.
A top executive search company surveyed 1250 senior executives and found that nearly 2/3rds had a mentor and the outcome was that they were happier in their progress and had greater pleasure from their work.
The Mentoring Experience
Mentoring involves a one- to- one personal relationship built on mutual respect between a mentor and professional. It is an opportunity to step back and review circumstances objectively with someone of experience who can ask the right questions and then enable the individual to assess courses of action. It can feel pretty isolated at the top of an organisation or senior management team, and so mentoring provides a confidential forum to assess issues such as how to feel comfortable with leading.
The content of all meetings is kept strictly confidential and information is released to the sponsor organisation only by the individual if they wish it. This enables you to discuss highly sensitive issues in confidence. The leadership mentor has a pragmatic approach and will certainly be sensitive and empathetic – but will ensure you are oriented toward action and results.
Mentoring involves a series of regular meetings over six to twelve months. Meetings normally occupy one to three hours every four to five weeks, depending on the requirement and schedule. However, the mentor will also be available on the phone, zoom, by email or in person for those times when an individual would like more support to chew over a particular issue or test out an idea.
Finally, mentoring can be for one individual or a top team together but always the emphasis is on achieving objectives through growing leadership self- efficacy and capabilities.
Hilarie Owen Author The Complete Guide to Mentoring and CEO The Leaders Institute