Mentoring to support leaders and open their minds

How does mentoring support leaders? The Leadership At The Board conference on 9th February featured a presentation from a renowned expert, followed by a roundtable of local governance professionals with a range of mentoring experience.

“Mentoring helps leaders understand their values, strengths, weaknesses, and makes them more self-aware,” said David Clutterbuck, a visiting professor of coaching and mentoring at four universities, and co-founder of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council. Creating context is key. “Mentoring is about creating a conversation that helps us link our understanding of our internal world with our perceptions of the external world,” he added.

Facilitate collaborative autonomy

“We don't really know what good leadership is, but we recognise it when we see it,” David said. He spoke of leaders needing to “create an environment where people trust each other people to naturally take on leadership roles” to facilitate positive change. He noted a trait of successful leaders: “they don't feel the need to control and know everything. Instead they create an environment where people can manage themselves.”

Hence an over-riding goal of mentors is to facilitate this collaborative autonomy. “We give them context, which is different from advice,” David said. “Context is when you give somebody information they don't have, which improves the quality of their thinking. When you give somebody advice, you're doing the thinking for them,” he explained. This process might be acting as a sounding board, or even seeking to operate as the leader’s “conscience”.

Exploring the unexpected

He also highlighted the key difference with coaching: the mentor does not earn money from this relationship. This opens the door to a more honest, open relationship. “Quite often leaders fall into a trap of choosing coaches like themselves, in other words people who are not going to challenge them much because they have similar mindsets,” he said. With a relationship based on non-commercial terms, a mentor is more at liberty to challenge pre-conceptions. “We challenge them in ways they don't expect to be challenged,” David explained.

Different mentors might be needed for different phases of a career, for transitions or for new projects. “I've had mentors to help me through setting up a business, through the first time I sold a business and so forth,” David noted.

David took questions from viewers after his presentation, a session moderated by Melanie Delannoy, a member of ILA’s Committee on Board Composition. Asked “what are the prerequisites of being be a good mentee?” (that is someone being mentored) he said: “’to a great extent it is about having the humility, the vulnerability, the courage to be able to say ‘I too am a work in progress’ and to acknowledge we don’t know everything.” But he said that it is already a good sign if the leader expresses curiosity about mentoring.

Why become a mentor?

“Mentoring certainly helps to accelerate the process of gaining expertise, it consolidates the self-confidence of the mentee, and builds trust among people, which of course is crucial for successful teamwork,” remarked Claude Faber who as well as three decades business experience, has been a mentor for 12 years and chairs the steering committee of Business Mentoring Luxembourg.

Why do people become mentors? “It’s about helping others to grow,” said Sandrine Dubois, a certified director with broad experience of the Luxembourg financial sector. “Enabling people to have more confidence in themselves is key to enabling them to improve society in general,” she said. Xavier Buck, a serial local ICT entrepreneur agreed, adding: “it's very rewarding to share experience rather than to keep it for oneself. Moreover you always learn because you receive full feedback.”

The value

Marie-Adélaïde Leclercq-Olhagaray, head of marketing & communications at Arendt and someone embarking on a career in corporate governance, gave some insight from the point of view of a mentee. “I wasn't looking for someone who could offer hard skills but more soft skills and accessing a culture of ssupport,” she said. “I was really looking for someone to provide a reflection of myself to make me more self-aware in my choices,” she added. While it is important to have personal rapport between the mentor and mentee, Marie-Adélaïde said it was ideal for the process to be conducted on a somewhat formal basis.

If after this session anyone remained sceptical about the value of mentoring, David had a suggestion: “go and find a mentee, and actually experience what it's like,” he said. “When you are asked questions from somebody younger than yourself that can really make you stop and think, it is then that you realise the value.”