Mentoring, and why you should be involved

Interview With Thomas Seale

You might be an expert in your field, with deep knowledge earned from decades of business experience, but adapting to life as a director is a unique challenge. A mentor could help, either with specific challenges or with your general approach to board life. Thomas Seale, a member of the ILA Board Composition Committee, believes directors benefit when they share experiences by becoming mentors and mentees. 

There is a subtle difference between mentoring and coaching. “In general, coaching tends to be more short term oriented, more about imparting a specific skillset so that someone can improve their performance,” Thomas explained. “Mentoring, is longer term, more of an on-going exchange about questions that arise, and developing soft-skills. Mentors tend to be more experienced, while coaches can be younger.”

Important pointers

“Often it can be something very small that helps the mentee view a situation in a new, more positive light,” Thomas added. For example, this might be giving tips on how to network more effectively, how to manage board relationships, dealing with new technical challenges, insight into digesting board packs and so on. “The relationship is often managed on a formal basis, perhaps with a monthly meeting,” Thomas said. It can become quite personal, with confidential exchanges about highs and lows that can be experienced in a career.

The attraction of such a relationship for the mentee is clear: a chance to build expertise to become a more effective and thus more sought-after director. For the mentor it’s about building relationships with people to give something back to the business community. It also helps boost diversity on boards. Some women benefit from encouragement with the particular challenges of breaking through the glass ceiling. Mentoring can also give pointers to people less culturally attuned to the ways of doing business in Luxembourg. Also of course, we’re never too old to learn. Mentors gain close insight into how others approach business challenges. Finally, gaining mentoring skills improves one's position in the marketplace.  

Learn about mentoring

Two events are up-coming to give ILA members a grounding in this area. On 9th February sees the online event “Leadership at the board - Must leadership change to accommodate the new realities of business? What is the role of mentoring in supporting that change?” It will feature a presentation by David Clutterbuck, a visiting professor of coaching and mentoring at four universities, and an author of 60 books. This will be followed by a panel discussion featuring local experts. 

Then on 24th February will be an ILA training event for current and future mentors and mentees: Practical approach to mentoring at the board level, at which David Clutterbuck will give a masterclass in mentoring. Both events are organised by the Board Composition Committee.

There are formal mentoring qualifications, but Thomas believes many relationships can flourish without this, but both parties need to set and understand some basic rules. These sessions are a great place to start.