Highly effective CEOs and senior executives retain an awareness of the wider business landscape, as well as their own personal progression and development as leaders. They don’t allow themselves to become overwhelmed by the operational tasks and responsibilities of their roles.
It’s one of the reasons why execs increasingly value the external viewpoint provided by mentors. Tom Beedham, Director of Programme Development at Criticaleye, comments: “It’s common for business leaders to be intently focused on strategy and operations, so much so that they’re blinded to the environment beyond.
“Mentoring is really about getting you to shift your perspective so that you see outside of your bubble. It allows you the time and space to dissect issues and find solutions that can’t enter a mind swamped with operational tasks.”
On a rudimentary level, mentoring allows leaders to accelerate their learning by avoiding the mistakes of others. However, it also goes further as it provides tools to fix unique problems as they arise.
Vanda Murray, Chair at Marshalls, former Chair of Fenner, and a Board Mentor at Criticaleye, comments: “Mentoring is a critical part of any individual’s development and also a good experience for whatever role you’re in, because with your mentor you get an independent, objective view of what you’re going through.
“You also tap into that individual’s network and experience. You are able to talk through issues in a safe environment with someone who is independent and objective and can help you think through your responses to various issues you’re dealing with, so you get all that from someone who’s probably been there and done it, or at least seen it on a few occasions.”
The objectivity and alternative perspective of a mentor can be invaluable. Bernie Waldron, Chair of Oaktree and another Board Mentor at Criticaleye, explains: “I get to meet good executives from industries I typically might not be that familiar with and, indeed, where I’m not familiar with the industry is possibly a strength, not a weakness in that relationship...
“I get a very time-efficient, front-row seat on a new industry; understand how it works and understand what’s on the mind of that person.”
Popping the Bubble
Executives need to remain curious and outward-looking, such as by exploring the impact of new technology on customers and reflecting on approaches to innovation. After all, plenty of leadership teams have come undone when they assumed they had struck on a formula for success and so focused all of the business’ resources on this core offering. It doesn’t work like that anymore, not when sectors can be transformed in the blink of an eye.
Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays Bank UK, says: “I think leaders must take an external perspective. If you understand what’s happening in the outside world, you can reflect that back on what’s happening in your company so that the needs of people living in that world can be met. It’s as simple as that.”
It’s about keeping an open mind, embracing new ideas and being willing to step out of your comfort zone. Colin Porter, CEO of Joules, states: “It’s quite dangerous to get too insular. And it’s very easy to look inward when you’re busy on the day-job with your team. But actually, a lot of inspiration comes from what other people are doing – whether it’s in your own sector or in a slightly different sector.
“I think it’s really important to keep your eyes open and to challenge yourself on how you could do something differently, or to take an idea from someone else and interpret it in a way that’s right for your customer.”
In some ways, the best executives appreciate the importance of humility. They realise that one person, no matter how bright and capable, cannot possess all the answers, which is why you need to be talking to others, listening to what’s being said, and, above all else, have an appetite for constant learning.
These comments were taken from the following Criticaleye films:
Stats from our Non-executive Director Retreat 2017 Research:
69 percent said business performance is enhanced if executives have access to reference points outside of their organisation / sector.
93 percent of Chairs and non-executives said the management team is too inward-looking.
The number one reason for failure in the management team was insufficient time spent discussing strategy.
To see the full results, click here