By: Suzanne de Janasz and Maury Peiperl (Harvard Business Review April 2015 Issue)

In 2010, when David Nish was promoted from CFO to CEO at Standard Life, he knew the scale of the challenge his company faced. The 185-year-old giant had just embarked on a sweeping transformation from an insurer to a long-term savings and investment company. Nish also knew that as the person leading the change, he would be tested by decisions and management situations he hadn’t encountered in the past. Certain that he could benefit from the perspective of someone who had been down similar roads before, Nish turned to a somewhat unusual adviser: Niall FitzGerald, a former chairman of Unilever.

The mentoring relationship they subsequently established is illustrative of those we have studied in our research—a two-year inquiry into an emerging way in which new CEOs in large organizations gain access to seasoned counsel and feedback. We found dozens of executives who were accelerating their learning by engaging the services of high-profile veteran leaders from outside their companies. To learn more about this growing but as yet undocumented phenomenon, we interviewed 15 chairman mentors and 25 protégés—CEOs, CEO designates, and CFOs. (Chairman Mentors International facilitated access to many of the study participants.)

On the basis of what we heard, we are convinced that more CEOs should connect with mentors rather than assume that theirs is a burden to be shouldered alone. But we also discovered aspects of such arrangements that make them trickier than the mentoring that takes place at lower organizational levels. At the CEO level, special considerations must go into making a match between mentor and mentee, structuring their sessions to deliver the intended benefits, and prioritizing the process so that it isn’t crowded out by other demands. By sharing what we’ve learned about these issues, we hope to pave the way for more use of this highly efficient learning model.

Read the full article here.