It’s Lonely At The Top: A Mentor Makes the Difference

By far the most enjoyable part of my work is the formal and informal mentoring I do with leaders of forms around the world. The main reward I get is the learning experience it offers me and the sense of contribution it brings. I have to confess I’d do it whether I was paid or not.

With that in mind my attention was drawn to a Harvard Business Review article (April 2015) titled CEOs Need Mentors Too that I strongly recommend to anyone sitting in the corner office. The article talks about the impact the right mentors can have on the quality of CEO decision making and the obvious consequences for the organization.

Unlike coaching, where prior experience in the position currently held by the mentee is good to have but not essential, mentors will make the greatest contribution when they have been in a similar role and have succeeded. Not only is their experience invaluable but most important, in my view, is the fact that they’ve “been there and done that” because it gives their mentee confidence they’ve been in the same place and see the challenges through the same lens.

I thought I’d complement some of the comments in the article with my thoughts on the mentoring process and what rules need to be in place for it to work. These are the rules I ask people I mentor to sign off on.

The Objective:

Help the mentee traverse the learning curve more quickly and perform role functions more effectively in the face of change and developing and implementing a new strategic direction. The deliverables include: issue clarity, choice options, big picture view, cheer-leading, and hand-holding to give the mentee confidence.

House Rules:

  1. Commit to total confidentiality – this will only work if the mentee understands that s/he can share the most intimate concerns, fears, and challenges with the mentor.
  2. Agree to total transparency and candor – the quality of the match between the mentor and the mentee will determine the quality of the process. This needs to be ascertained very early in the relationship. If good chemistry does not exist the process will not work. This is categorically not a process where the mentee gets to have a mentor “ratify” his/her decisions and use that to drive a personal agenda in the firm.
  3. Both parties prioritize and prepare for meetings – it needs to be understood as being part of the management process not as a consulting engagement.
  4. Meetings are set and organized by the mentee far enough in advance to allow the mentor time to think about the issues.
  5. Sessions are to have a formal agenda set by the mentee and defined by problems, challenges, and/or opportunities currently confronting the mentee.
  6. Sessions are held at regular intervals e.g. monthly or bi-monthly so there’s continuity of involvement and connection.



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