A good mentor directs questions and conversations that force pinpoint focus and vigorous debate on key issues

Business leaders operate in a fast changing environment these days with rapidly changing markets, technologies and legal responsibilities. The CEO carries the onerous responsibility for the delivery of company performance and investor returns against a tidal wave of day to day challenges and pressures. Those of us that have been there know how lonely it can be. Add the pressures of internal politics or unreasonable investor behaviour and the pressure can become unbearable. No wonder the failure rate and turnover of CEOs is so high. A mentor can be a great help in high pressure times.

I’m often asked why businesses fail. There’s no simple answer of course but there are patterns that emerge when you’ve had experience of having to go in and recover numerous businesses. Market forces for example, are often the dominant factor. You put a competent CEO and his team onto a downward market spiral and they can be crushed. What makes a good CEO and executive team is how they react to market changes. The quality of decision making is particularly critical at such times and the pressures are considerable.

In theory the CEO is not alone because he or she has the chairman there for support but all too often the chairman isn’t skilled in mentoring and coaching. When this scenario is present the CEO could get a lot of benefit from an outside mentor with the chairman’s blessing.

There should be no shame attached to seeking outside mentoring help. After all, there have been many top business men and women that have turned to mentoring. It is said that even Bill Gates and Mark Zukerburg have needed mentors at times!

Choosing a mentor has parallels with any other recruitment situation. Finding the right mentor is easier when you define the sort of help you need. If you are running hospitals, a mentor from the oil industry may be able to help help on generic topics but probably not the best choice overall.

Behind every top athlete or sports person there’s often an experienced and carefully selected coach. Improvements are not instant but result from closely working together over a continual period of time. The same applies with executive mentoring.

The key to any great mentor or coach is that they provide perspective. CEOs face the risk of becoming inward looking, stale and feeling a loss of confidence. No one can operate at their best without their confidence intact. CEOs are just the same. Achieving clarity around issues from being able to talk things through is a great route to recover confidence.

A good mentor directs questions and conversations that force pinpoint focus and vigorous debate on the key issues. The right mentor will not only be helping in the generic sense but will have a depth of relevant experience to help achieve answers to difficult matters.

For some CEOs the experience can quite literally be life changing, for others it is merely a slight course correction, enabling them to solve a challenge or embrace an opportunity more confidently. Coaching leads to an increase in self-awareness and begins to unlock more of the hidden capacity and potential that all of us possess.

Further useful comment on executive mentoring: https://hbr.org/2013/08/research-ceos-and-the-coaching