What do top performing leaders have in common?

chess gameSo, what do top performing leaders have in common? They’ve all received some form of mentoring throughout their careers to get them where they are today.

In fact, Harvard Business Review surveyed 45 CEOs who had formal mentoring in place, and found that ‘71% said they were certain that company performance had improved as a result. Strong majorities reported that they were making better decisions (69%) and more capably fulfilling stakeholder expectations (76%).

While it’s certainly not a new concept in the business world, but it can be lonely at the top and many leaders find it challenging to know how they’re performing – and what exactly they need to do to be more effective in their role.

As a business leader you have to frequently make decisions concerning matters that have never before been undertaken. In such high-stakes conditions, leaders require wise mentoring with apparent rules of engagement to ensure total confidentiality.

Finding the right mentor can sometimes be the difference between success and failure. By working with a mentor, leaders are able to benchmark how they’re performing as well as be held accountable from a wise role model, someone with genuine guidance based on true-life experiences.

Here’s how some of our top performing members benefited in key areas of their business from having a mentor:

Transitioning into the C-suite 

There are a number of challenges involved in transitioning from a functional executive into the C-suite. By engaging with a mentor who has personally experienced such transitions, new leaders can gain access to perspectives that are uniquely contextualised and personalised. These ongoing relationships are often one of the most important when it comes to giving leaders the confidence to tackle new issues as they arise, particularly in areas that fall outside their core expertise and experience.

This is exactly why Director of Save Sight Institute and Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Sydney Peter McCluskey, was drawn to seeking an experienced mentor.

‘I look after a lot of people, a lot of students and do a lot of administration, plus working as an eye doctor, a researcher and a teacher. Moving to this role was a big, big change and involved a lot of learning on the fly.’

‘TEC has really been a fabulous sounding board for helping me make sure I understand what the problems are that I was facing with personnel, strategy and implementation,’ Peter explained.

As someone who transitioned into a Director role from a research and teaching background, Peter wanted to ensure he had the right skill set, outlook and thought processes to successfully lead the institute, which is where mentoring made a measurable difference.

Building and retaining top talent

One of the many challenges affecting businesses regardless of the industry in which they operate is building and retaining top talent.

Managing Partner of Marsh & Partners Bronwyn Condon found that both external and internal mentoring is essential for retaining and developing employees throughout the firm.

‘We have a mentoring program within the firm where we ensure accounting graduates are getting to whatever level they need,’ Bronwyn explained.  ‘Beyond that is when I get involved directly. That means ensuring they can move from an accountant to a manager role and eventually a partner.’

Bronwyn has experienced firsthand the impact of this talent strategy in action, with a number of different employees advancing their careers within the firm. ‘We’ve got a lot of people who have been here for 10, 12 years who have worked their way up to the manager level. They wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have a strong mentor process in place.’

Having the right mentor that understands the importance of a talent strategy is crucial to business success, and leaders who can implement this strategy will set the organisation up for future growth.

Mentoring extends across the C-suite

Traditionally, mentoring is viewed as a one-on-one connection. While this is a still a valuable way to pass on insight, there’s also merit in extending this connection and bringing it into a group situation. Spending time with a group of senior executives, who share similar experience, insights and challenges associated with their respective industries helps to broaden and develop leadership perspective.

That was certainly the case for WBP Property Group CEO, Greville Pabst. Greville believes that the group connection is one of the most important parts of his mentoring experience. By attending both his monthly one-on-one mentoring session and meeting with his peer network of senior executives, Greville is able to project his ideas and refocus.

‘Not only do I have an experienced business mentor, I also have sixteen or seventeen other CEOs that I can talk to,’ Greville said. ‘We can all speak in trust and with confidence and I just think that is a really understated resource that TEC brings to its members.’

Greville explained that a key component of his mentoring experiences is the ability to help keep him grounded, ensuring his ideas and aspirations remain realistic for the future. On top of this, the members’ diversity means that no two opinions are the same.

‘We keep each other very accountable, that’s for sure. We have a vast wealth of experience from all walks of life. It’s been a great learning experience for me’ Greville explained.

Mentoring remains a valuable and versatile method of enhancing business success and ensuring leaders have the confidence, skills and knowledge necessary to make key business decisions. When business leaders fail to seek outsider input for support, their companies can suffer.

Breaking bad: Are you approaching change management the right way?

Maintaining business success is impossible without change.

Whether it’s advancing technologies, shifting market conditions or a stuttering economy, there are many factors that can make or break an organisation in today’s rapidly evolving commercial landscape.

However, many leaders are guilty of a common misstep when approaching a change management project. They fail to identify and eliminate negative behaviours in the workplace.

While senior executives are keen to spread best practices and streamline existing processes, these efforts are often undermined by destructive influences.

An expanding body of research is showing that the first step in any change management project should be to curtail these damaging factors before embarking on organisational improvements.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Effective change management can achieve excellent results, but CEOs may need to dig deep and uproot legacy issues that are contributing to disharmony.

This can be an ugly process, and can even highlight failings at the upper echelons of management. Behaviours such as jealousy, laziness, dishonesty and fear are not only destructive at an individual level, they can spread like wildfire through an organisation.

A recent American Management Association study showed colleagues heavily resent employees who dodge their duties. Furthermore, nearly 70 per cent of respondents claimed this laziness damaged overall performance.

What is more worrying for senior executives is that 44 per cent of respondents said it diminishes engagement in the workplace. Half said it reflected a lack of shared responsibility.

Sandi Edwards, senior vice-president for AMA Enterprise, said: “Employees understandably become resentful when they see co-workers shirking responsibility without accountability – in such a situation, organisational morale and, ultimately, performance cannot help suffering.

“A culture that tolerates ‘passing the buck’ alienates those employees who give everything to their job on a daily basis. A few shirkers can snowball until the dominant culture becomes one of risk and responsibility aversion.”

These types of working environment spell bad news for any business implementing a change management project.

Ways to stop the rot

Once you have decided to target negative influences, there are several ways of breaking bad habits and promoting a positive atmosphere in the workplace.

This may involve dealing with problem employees, revitalising out-dated processes or re-adjusting unrealistic expectations. Here are three tips for approaching change management the right way.

1. DO sweat the small stuff

Even relatively minor problems can become major headaches if left to fester, as the “broken windows” theory suggests.

This popular proposition put forward by criminologist George Kelling and political scientist James Wilson in 1982 suggested that in neighbourhoods where a single window on a building is left unrepaired, other broken windows and structural damage soon follow.

The idea is that even a small unresolved issue indicates a lack of care and attention, eventually leading to widespread apathy and escalating destructive behaviour. The premise has been supported by several studies.

Business leaders should take note. Identifying small, yet persistent problems within your organisation can drastically improve productivity, boost morale and keep workers engaged and motivated for change.

2. Separate bad apples

Every company has bad apples and if your business is big enough there could be several. As a CEO or director, the temptation may be to leave the task of dealing with disruptive employees to line managers or department heads.

However, what if the problem is company-wide or involves the line managers themselves? Coming up with a solution may require a cross-departmental strategy that is outside the scope and responsibility of individual managers.

One approach is to collect all of your bad apples into one or multiple teams and assign them new leaders. There is likely to be a few big personalities involved, so they will need to be headed by strong managers who are up to the challenge.

Channelling their negative energy towards a common goal could have surprisingly beneficial outcomes. Even if a team continues to underperform, the damage will be limited to one area and other employees won’t be affected.

3. Build an effective change management team

Who you assign to a change management team is vital. The leader of this team needs to be high in the organisation to indicate the importance associated with the task.

However, seniority is not the only factor. They must also be well respected and have a good relationship with employees who, ultimately, are the driving force behind effective change management.

Getting popular staff members on side with a change initiative can drastically improve its chance of success. But recognising these employees can be difficult for directors who have little contact with personnel outside of senior management.

CEOs and directors should take the time to do research, improve communication and be objective when building the best change management team.