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.
Lois, Lory and Lisa share many things in common when it comes to mentoring, but it’s their individual approach and unique outlook that make them such a successful team. This spirit of individuality and their complementary skills were highlighted in a recent interview, where they were asked about their passion for mentoring, what they’ve learned from mentors, and their advice to new mentors.
Here’s what they had to say:
Why are you passionate about mentoring?
LOIS: My personal mentoring stories are many. I marvel at how my mentors raised the bar for me, led by example, pushed me beyond my personally defined limits, encouraged me to enlarge my thinking, and believed in me even when I was not sure of myself. I am grateful for their time, their stories and their commitment to my growth. And, while most of my experiences were positive, there were a few that could have gone better. I had no clue then that there were things I could have done, could have said, could have asked, and could have tried that would have allowed me to make the most of my mentoring relationships. I didn’t realize that as a mentee I had an instrumental role to play in shaping the relationship and defining the outcomes of the relationship. So for me, mentoring is both personal and professional. I pay it back, every day and in every way that I can. My passion is reignited every time I work with my many diverse clients and I see how mentoring has helped them change, both themselves and the world around them.
LORY: I’ve interviewed hundreds of mentors and mentees over the past 18 years and heard their stories about breakthroughs, renewed confidence, and shifts in thinking. Their stories have inspired me. I get energized listening to people talk about their renewed sense of energy and commitment to their work because of the support and positive feedback they’ve received from mentors. I recently spoke to a mentee who told me how his mentor helped him see why certain stereotypical beliefs were holding him back and undermining his success at work. When he was finally able to turn his behaviors around, the stress and tension disappeared and new opportunities opened up. It’s exciting to see the transformative power of mentoring play itself out, time and time again.
LISA: I believe the best way to make a difference in the workplace is to help employees feel connected, valued and heard. I think that mentoring is the ideal way to accomplish this, because it creates a safe and powerful space for a mentee to gain perspective, focus on his/her own needs and ask questions that broaden their perspectives of themselves, their teams, and their organization.
What have you learned from your mentors?
LOIS: I’ve learned to listen to my own voice, to think outside the box, to let my creativity shine through, and to never give up. And that’s only the start of it. I’ve learned from observing my mentors in action, how they model the art and practice of being a reflective practitioner and asking deep, penetrating questions.
LORY: My first mentor believed that I had the skills and talent to be successful. He believed in my abilities more than I did. He inspired me to take risks and take on assignments that I would never have done without his support. I learned to believe in myself and see myself as a capable leader. My mentor also helped me understand how to think strategically and understand the politics of the institution. In a sense, he helped me see how the chess pieces moved. I learned to think several steps ahead, rather than jump in and make decisions on the fly.
LISA: I’ve learned to slow down, and to step back and think about the impact my role can have on the organization as a whole. This has helped me be more strategic and focus my own development so that I can have the greatest impact. I’ve learned to pay attention to what lights me up. I’ve learned to appreciate the positive feedback I get and to process difficult feedback constructively and in the proper context.I’ve learned a ton about the importance of developing relationships with people who believe in me and to nurture those relationships.
What are the top 3 things you’d like a new mentor to know?
Pay attention to your intuition. Your gut feeling is more often right than wrong.
Don’t be afraid of the silence. Silence allows a mentee to catch up, to process, and come up with new insights.
You don’t need to know everything. A good question is the most powerful tool in your mentor’s toolkit.
Talk about your challenges and struggles with your mentee as well as your successes. It will make you more approachable and human.
Believe in your mentees and let them know that you see their potential. They are doing the heavy lifting and your positivity helps them continue the effort.
Push your mentee out of their comfort zone. It’s the only way they will reap real rewards.
Share your own experiences — the good stuff and the stuff that might not be so good. It makes a world of difference for mentees to know you are human and that you can bounce back from difficult experiences.
Give honest but constructive feedback — and help the mentee turn it into something actionable. Mentees can make great gains if they get honest feedback from their mentors. It helps many mentees to have a space to talk about the best ways to improve.
Check in on the relationship. If something the mentee is doing isn’t working for you, or is sabotaging their own progress, share it with them as soon as possible. Some of the greatest progress has come from mentoring relationships that started out rocky, but where the participants addresses issues openly, swiftly, and willingly.
At first, mentoring and leadership coaching could seem like interchangeable terms for the same training program. However, when you understand the difference between the two methods, you realize, to be a strong leader, you need both. In their simplest forms, mentoring is about building valuable relationships with other people, while leadership coaching programs concentrate on improving performance.
Mentoring is a robust improvement tool customized for personal growth. Mentorship is an efficient way to help people advance in their careers while building meaningful relationships. Typically, it requires two people (a mentor and a mentee) who work in a related field and share professional experiences. Through respect and trust, the two people work together to realize the mentee’s potential and discuss a plan to achieve their goals.
Although mentoring is an essential tool for all professionals, leadership coaching is equally valuable. Through leadership coaching, you have the opportunity to hone your management skills and enhance your performance as a leader. Unlike mentoring, leadership coaching can be completed in a group or individual sessions.
Leadership coaches are often hired from outside your organization and, sometimes, your field. The separation from the company allows the coach to discuss topics and solve problems that could be unsuitable to address with your supervisor.
To make your career goals a reality, you must understand your professional path and continuously improve your performance. The simplest way to enhance your career experience is through strong relationships with a mentor as well as a leadership coach.
The Center for Mentoring Excellence offers the tools and training needed to help you achieve your mentoring and leadership goals. Also, we provide a variety of resources to help you strengthen your leadership abilities and boost your team’s productivity. So what are you waiting for? Contact us today!
Here’s another question we often get about mentoring. Again, we hope it helps you in your own mentoring adventures.
Note: These questions are compiled from several questions we receive, and do not necessarily reflect any one person’s submission.
Q: I’ve been tasked by my HR VP to start a mentoring program to prepare our managers for new roles with greater responsibilities. Our VPs and senior leaders are the mentors and I’m supposed to put together a training session for them. I have never developed a training program before and I have never trained senior leaders. I’m shaking in my boots. Help!
A: Help is on the way! Your leadership has identified an important business imperative behind mentoring efforts, which is a great first step. Mentoring is not just a “feel-good” activity. It should address the strategic business goals of the organization. You need to ensure that your efforts and investments pay off. It can be overwhelming to create a dynamic mentor training program that is engaging, participative and informative.
An organization that identifies mentoring as a strategic tool must develop its in-house capacity for mentoring training. To be a truly effective mentor trainer, you have to develop some expertise in mentoring. We have a solution for you. Our Mentoring Facilitator Trainer Certification Program will prepare you to deliver Mentoring: Strategies for Success in your organization. The content of that program will ensure your mentor leaders:
Understand the purpose and key concepts of mentoring and how it differs from coaching
Identify their learning style and the role of learning in facilitating mentee growth and development
Recognize the four predictable phases in the mentoring cycle and the key components of each phase
Structure the initial mentoring conversation to get started on the right foot
Explore how to set learning goals, set priorities and identify milestones
Recognize and overcome common stumbling blocks in a mentoring relationship
Support, challenge and provide effective feedback to mentees
Bring the relationship to successful closure
Our training certification process will allow you to master the content and gain experience delivering the material to your audience. You will walk away after three days with all the tools, competencies and confidence you need to be successful.
And you’re in luck. Our next training event is coming up, Monday, September 29 – Wednesday, October 1. Registration is open now, but it fills up fast, so register today!