Becoming a great leader doesn’t happen overnight – it takes years of experience, trial and error and personal introspection to become a leader that inspires staff and gets the best result for their organisation.
This personal journey doesn’t happen alone though and every great leader will have mentors, confidants and role models they have followed who have helped them to improve. Mentors in particular can help a leader to grow in their role by providing a sounding board for ideas and an impartial source of feedback for any challenges they face.
‘If you ask any successful businessperson, they will always [say they] have had a great mentor at some point along the road’ – Richard Branson
You only have to look at some of the most successful CEOs in the world to see how important mentoring is to their success. Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are just some of the famous business leaders who have been mentored as part of their personal journey.
Why is mentoring so important for CEOs?
No one is able to take on the full range of responsibilities that come with being a CEO without a little help. Even if you have been through a comprehensive succession process, it is still a steep learning curve to assume this new role.
That’s where working with a mentor can help, by providing a source of impartial guidance from someone who has already seen what it takes to be successful in the role. For new CEOs, having this discussion is invaluable for making the most of the leadership opportunity they have access to.
As well as providing feedback that is specific to being a CEO, mentoring can also help with the personal impact of being a leader. The top of any company is often a lonely place, with many CEOs reporting they feel isolated by their success. Having a mentor who understands these feelings can certainly help make them more manageable.
‘I’ve seen that phenomenally successful people believe they can learn something from everybody. I call them ‘mavericks with mentors.’ – Brendon Burchard
Having a mentor on your side isn’t just important when you first become a CEO either, it’s a relationship that can evolve and change over time and as you encounter new obstacles. Over time, the challenges a CEO faces are going to evolve, as are the pressures they are placed under. Mentoring can help with every step of a leader’s journey, no matter what sector they are working in.
Business leaders who don’t take on a mentor are also likely to face a whole range of potential issues that can affect their performance. Without the guidance and support of a mentor, CEOs may not have the perspective they need to make the best decisions.
What does a mentor do?
The mentoring relationship is what you make of it and every one is different. But there are a few common features that really add value for CEOs that need someone to talk through the issues they are facing. Here are two of the most important roles a mentor can play:
- Asking tough questionsOne issue that can arise when people assume a leadership position is that there aren’t the same people who are asking them the questions they might not want to hear. While it is easy to ignore these doubts when you are in a position of influence, successful CEOs will know that being asked these tough questions means a better outcome for the business.Having a mentor is ideal during this process, as they will know the sort of tough questions you may not have been asked within the company. For leaders facing major decisions, having someone they trust to ask these questions is a useful way to make better decisions.
- Holding leaders accountableMany CEOs will find it difficult to hold themselves accountable. Even in a company where the CEO is overseen by an active board, at a personal level there certainly isn’t the same answerability that comes from having a manager above you.Of course, accountability doesn’t have to come from someone above you in a more senior position, it can also come from having someone who you trust in a mentoring position.
‘I think mentors are important and I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship. Nobody makes it alone. Nobody has made it alone. And we are all mentors to people even when we don’t know it.’ – Oprah Winfrey
What can you gain from having a mentor?
For those who enter into a mentoring relationship, there are plenty of benefits. Not only do you get someone who is prepared to ask tough questions and hold you accountable, you also have a person who is committed to helping you achieve your own goals.
It’s also important to realise that every successful business person has had some form of mentoring relationship to get them to where they are. No matter what the industry, many leaders know how important it can be to have someone they trust to discuss their business challenges with.
Mentoring is clearly a valuable addition to any CEOs leadership skills and can make a big difference to their personal and professional success. Of course, the first step is to recognise that it might be time to seek out the support of a mentor who has the skills and expertise to match your personal goals and ambition. Taking this first step is a big jump, but will help to set yourself up for the future growth of your company and yourself.