Harvard Business Review

Harvard business review

CEOs Need Mentors Too.

The authors have conducted a yearlong study of how new CEOs in large organisations gain access to seasoned counsel and feedback. Although these leaders have usually experienced mentoring earlier in their careers, arrival at the top suddenly narrows the available and appropriate options. To keep raising their game--and having their thinking usefully challenged--CEOs need wise mentoring. They're finding it, the authors learned, by turning to high-profile veteran leaders from outside their companies.

  • Special considerations must go into matching mentor and mentee
  • Structuring their sessions to deliver the intended benefits, and prioritizing the process so that it isn't crowded out by other demands
  • Total confidentiality is an absolute necessity--as are regular meetings--and storytelling is the mode of knowledge-sharing both parties usually prefer.

"Most interesting to us," the authors write, "was the psychological boost that mentors' war stories seemed to give new CEOs."

Chairman Mentors International (CMi) shared its experience and provided access to those interviewed.




Making a success of succession.

Companies are generally not good at changing their chiefs.

A survey this year by the National Association of Company Directors found that two-thirds of American private and public companies had no succession plan. Another survey, by Korn Ferry, the headhunting firm, suggested a similar figure for American and non-American companies. Egon Zehnder, another headhunting firm, (not referred to in this article) concluded that, after having interviewed some 50 Chairmen and CEOs of major companies in Europe and the US on the subject of succession, "We should have started earlier".

Just as a badly handled succession can paralyse a company, a well handled one can provide a chance to reinvigorate its upper ranks.


IMD Report

IMD research on mentoring at the top

It is no secret that the executives running our largest companies are under significant pressure to perform and that the cost of failure in the top executive ranks is high. Many of the skills required to lead an organisation are different to those acquired on the journey to the top. Yet, unlike colleagues operating at other ranks in their organisations, two thirds of CEOs receive no external advice on their roles, despite almost all reporting that they would be receptive to external guidance.

CMi talks to senior executives every day who are convinced that mentoring by independent chairmen is crucial to help them address the inevitable blind spots and gaps in their experience. But until now, there has been no clear examination of the role of mentoring at a senior level.

Consequently, I am delighted to present this report by IMD, the Lausanne-based business school, which is the first clear, robust research into executive level mentoring and the circumstances in which it is most effective. Through more than 60 interviews with C-Suite mentees, sponsors and mentors across Europe during 2013, IMD found that mentoring can have a significant effect on senior executives, resulting in increased confidence, improved company performance and better decision-making.

Concluding that senior level mentoring should be a priority board-level tool and a vital component of responsible succession planning, IMD's research also identifies clear conditions for successful mentoring. These include the importance of ensuring chemistry and trust between mentor and mentee, the independence of the mentor, and - wherever feasible - the initiation of the process before the executive enters their role.

We hope that by providing the first research in the world to date on this phenomenon, IMD will prompt a lively debate about the role that mentoring can play in helping business leaders to perform at their best.

Krister Svensson
Chairman & Founder, CMi