February 12

It can be lonely at the top…

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It can be lonely at the top...
It can be lonely at the top...

Some years ago I noticed a particularly interesting scenario.  There are many occasions when an individual is promoted or employed into a C-Suite role in a publicly listed company, or a key role in government, having come from a distinctly different background.  At the top end, these individuals are always expected to hit the ground running.  And yet there are various gaps in their experience, usually related to culture, environmental factors, political landscapes, new markets and business norms that are missing – that are often difficult to overcome.

I realised too that the only way to assist these people, was to match them up with a mentor who had weathered the same storms.  Someone who had experienced similar situations and succeeded despite the challenges.  So if we had a new CEO on a publicly listed company or a new Partner who had come from a Ltd company, I would seek out an experienced, non-competitive mentor who had been there and done that.

The first three to four months in any new role is fraught with difficulty, not least when we enter unfamiliar environments, markets, cultures and norms.   If our hiring policies are sound, the individual concerned should have all the right education, skills, knowledge, a proven track record and convivial abilities.  However, we don’t always seek to recruit from the same sectors or markets.  Often we are looking to inject a new perspective, sector and market experience and transformational abilities.  And this is where an appropriate mentor should be sought and engaged for the new recruit.

I see mentoring and coaching as distinctly different approaches, with a wide area of crossover in-between.  Mentors assist in guiding people through specific situations where they are able to add significant value from their own experience overcoming similar challenges.  Coaches assist high potential people to reach their potential and to deal with change, transition and transformation.  Saying that, mentors also coach, and coaches also mentor.

If we look at this from a broader business perspective, we would not attempt to take a private company and list it on the stock exchange without the rigorous guidance and best practice of a number of professional advisors.  Why should we expect anything different for our leaders?  It is, in my view, incredibly short-sighted not to invest in the support and guidance

Most global firms have long adopted internal mentoring as standard practice at all levels throughout the organisation.  So if you join as an Associate, you will be mentored by a Principal, who in turn is mentored by a Partner, who in turn is mentored by a Senior Partner.   It breeds a highly engaged culture, assists in learning and development and effective employee retention.

Saying this, the top of any organisation is often the loneliest place to be.  In highly competitive markets, it is often the CEO or Managing Partner who is in most need of an external, neutral sounding board.  Those with the wherewithal understand this and engage a coach or mentor, or both – either under their own steam, or culture permitting, sponsored by the organisation they work for.

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