Mentoring has become very popular in organizational life. Formal mentoring programmes are established where leaders and employees with long history in the company will mentor newly hired leaders/employees, high potentials, and talents of many kinds.
Top executive may have had the opportunity to be mentored during their careers, but after their arrival at the top leadership level, they will find that the opportunity for having an internal mentor is limited. First of all, there is few or none with the experience needed to be the right mentor; those who are there are too close workwise and often a part of the situation the executive wishes to discuss; and there might also be confidentiality issues. Still, top executives need to keep raising their game, rethinking their approach, and staying on top of the business agenda to keep up their performance and staying successful in their jobs.
Top executives also need someone with whom to discuss their challenges – not just on a personal level but also on a business and strategic level where the stakes are high. Mentors are role models who have experience from similar jobs and high-stake situations – they have experienced the crises on their own and know how it feels. From their experience they can offer timely, context-specific advice, share knowledge as well as stories of how they approached their challenges – successfully and unsuccessfully – and they can listen, understand, and show empathy making the top executives feel less alone.
Finding the right mentors
What qualifications are we looking for when looking for mentors for top executives? Well, they need to have context-relevant experience at a relevant leadership level to be able to relate to the top executives’ situation and challenges. Additionally, they need to be still involved in business life – if not in full time leadership position, then probably as professional board members. On a personal level they need to have a passion for learning and helping others learn, which includes the ability to listen carefully, asking good and challenging questions, and knowing when it is right to provide advice and solutions.
How do you find such a mentor? First you need to define what your need is and then what kind of mentor you need. Now you can start by looking at your network and your network’s network connections and ask people you trust about their recommendations for whom to approach.
However, we know from research and experience that finding the right match on your own can be difficult. You need to find someone who does not know you too well, so they can be neutral and without preconceived ideas of who you are and what you should do. This is important so the person can help you by providing new perspectives as well as help you develop new solutions.
Another way of finding a mentor is by looking for external, professional mentors. More and more top executives start up as external mentors when they decide to step down from their fulltime executive positions. They are still engaged in business life, take on board positions and – hopefully – take a professional mentor education to do executive mentoring. Finding such an external, professional mentor will ensure that your relationship is fully confidential and focused on your challenges. However, it can still be difficult to choose the right mentor – you do need to look into their business background as well as consider their personal approach and evaluate whether this is the right match for you.
A third way of finding an external mentor is looking for consulting houses offering this service. Here you get professional help to be matched with a professional external mentor who can bring a fresh perspective. When being matched through a consulting house, like our Executive Business+Mentor programme, you get a professional discussion partner, who supports, give advice, and helps you through the challenges you are facing, and a professional mentor coach will supervise the process.