CEOs and Successful Senior Managers have external Mentors. In my opinion, CEOs and senior managers are extremely brave people. After years of establishing expertise in one or two key functional areas or industries; they take up a role in which they are expected to be able to understand, and master all the different aspects of the business!
From day one, CEOs have:
- all the accountability in defining the company
- to ensure that they have an efficient and effective Board or management team
- to have an employee culture that empowers the employees and satisfies the customers,
- and a business model that really works.
This requires a high level of aptitude across a number of competencies. Failure in any one area can have a disastrous effect on the company.
Senior Managers must understand the business and be able to take on a peer's responsibilities at a moments notice if necessary.
Often the success of a company rests on their leadership abilities. When in situ they are expected to need little professional development. To be a charismatic leader and an effective manager. To have knowledge of their industry and emerging trends and an ability to understand the differing activities of the business that makes up the whole.
The more complex the company is, the higher the level of expectation that is placed upon them.
To ensure that they deliver what is expected of them, productive leaders must ensure the successful marriage of their own management and leadership skills. In this context, management can be defined as the ability to make good decisions and leadership as the ability to execute those decisions through others. As a result, they often hire the services of an external mentor.
Coaching vs Mentoring
Coaching begins with the premise that the answers are within the person being coached. The coach’s role is to, help the individual understand that and via the use of encouraging and questioning techniques, helps elicit the solution. A coach (in its purist form) is non directional and doesn't provide advice.
By contrast a mentor is an expert who provides guidance and advice within a more developmental relationship. Mentoring requires flexibility of the mentor and their ability to use a wide range of techniques to guide the mentee.
The benefits of external mentoring
Having the ability to confide in someone outside of the company
There is a high expectation from shareholders, the Board, employees and other stakeholders that the business leader (CEO or otherwise) is always able to clearly assess the optimum direction of the company. He is always self assured, confident and has high self esteem and can easily handle difficult situations with the Board and executive teams without doubt and with aplomb.
They face many important strategic decisions and to confide that they are uncertain can signal a vulnerability that may weaken their position, and cause doubt in their subordinates. This can be disastrous especially in times when the company is going through major change such as a merger or acquisition, downsizing, a strategic re-direction or restructure.
There can be times when they are unsure of whom to trust in his organisation especially if he is experiencing doubt in a decision that he needs to make. It can be lonely at the top especially if there isn’t someone trustworthy to confide in.
Having an objective sounding board
Often a productive and efficient leader wishes to try out or test new ideas prior to sharing them with his peers. This enables him to ensure that new ideas are fully assessed and are in sufficient shape prior to the scrutiny that he will receive from his Board or executive team.
By working with his mentor he is able to role play the likely resistance that he may receive and therefore be more prepared when it comes to discussing his ideas. He can ensure that he is taking an objective stance rather than an emotional one and is being as strategic or operational in outlook as the situation requires.
Receiving support and advice on team dynamics
Not every executive team is as productive or efficient as it should be. This may be because of the way that the leader is interacting with the other members. If this is the case then the mentor can provide objective advice on how he can be more effective in this arena.
Sometimes the team itself is dysfunctional and is therefore unable to achieve its strategic goals, whilst the leader is usually able to analyse the reason for the dysfunction he is not always sure how to address the problem. This can be especially true when the reason for dysfunction is due to the personalities of the team, or particular loyalty to their own department.
It is common for mentors to attend the occasional key meeting to observe the way the leader interacts with his team as well as how the team interacts as a whole. The insight that the mentor provides can enable the leader to clearly see how to improve the dynamics of the team and improve its productivity and efficiency.
Staying ahead of the game by receiving knowledge from other industries
The best mentors work across industries therefore easily transferring best practice from one industry to the next. This enables the leader to remain fresh and able to more closely identify emerging trends within his own area, through more objective thinking.
The leader broadens his horizons and experience by working with an external mentor. One way of achieving this is by leveraging the knowledge of the mentor and being able to challenge what is perceived as the only effective way to get something done.
Continuous leadership development
Once an executive becomes a leader it is often assumed that he no longer needs any further development. This can be a flawed assumption especially when contemplating the role and responsibilities that they face, often in a challenging and competitive environment. Mentoring enables them to recognise their own abilities and limitations in a safe environment therefore ensuring that their abilities are enhanced and limitations developed into strengths. Where necessary, tasks are delegated to enable the leader to fulfil his strategic role successfully.
An external mentor ensures that the leader remains challenged, motivated and constantly learning/developing. This enables the company to reap the benefit of a leader continuously challenging their own assumptions, someone with a clear strategic focus and who can expertly marry the need to demonstrate clear leadership, efficient management and effective communication.
A more successful and sustainable company
Numerous research studies show that how a company is led is what makes the difference between successful and sustainable companies and failures. External mentors have the unique ability to assist the leader and at times the leadership team in taking a more objective and strategic approach. They enable employee development, clarity of thinking and enhanced communication skills and team dynamics.
Does mentoring always work?
There are only two main reasons why mentoring doesn’t work. If there is a bad fit between the mentor and mentee or if the leader is not ready to be open and honest with his mentor and be willing to move out of his comfort zone.
For example, I was working with an established CEO who had recently moved to a new company. The company was very dysfunctional; his top team was inefficient beset with personality and competency issues, poor morale issues amongst the employees and severe union issues. To add to his problems they were losing key customers, haemorrhaging money and the shareholders were not happy. They gave him a very tight timescale in which to achieve turnaround results.
The CEO was unable to confide in his team and was unclear as to where the true starting point was and whether there was a common root to the company’s issued.
By working closely together he was able to see clearly the issues that were faced by the company. To segregate the problems caused by his top team and the consequences of devalued and de-motivated employees. By tackling these key areas, he understood that these were the causes of customer dissatisfaction and poor bottom line results.
He learnt that his own leadership style was adding to the problem and how best to interact with others to ensure that he got the results that he wanted. He understood how to get the best out of his team and how to implement the best processes to deal with the technical deficiencies.
Under his tenure the company improved its fortunes, his team increased their competence and the union difficulties improved as they saw the employees being better treated. This had a positive effect on the bottom line. The CEO benefited from having a trusted advisor who was removed from the company, who could provide objective guidance and advice.
Mentoring is often much more beneficial to business leaders than traditional coaching practices as it provides senior management with an external sounding bound, someone who can practically assess and advise on the problematic issues within the organisation as a whole, and will not just sit back and wait for the answers to ‘come from within’. Mentoring works when the mentee understands the needs to be challenged and to continue his personal development to realise his achievements and to ensure the likelihood of his company’s success.
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