Mentors ease the loneliness at top

CEOs and senior managers in small and large public and private organisations are under increasing pressure to perform in an environment that is becoming more complex, uncertain and challenging.

They do not always have the time or the opportunity to undergo the personal development needed to keep up with current management trends in business, commercial and government operation and often do not have internal organisation access to objective input and criticism in regard to their decisions.

CEOs in particular have a lonely role in that they have no peers in the organisation in whom they can confide without fear or favour.

Senior managers also, are often reluctant to share their burden with colleagues with whom they can be competing for rewards.

Flattening of organisation structures means that promotion to higher-level jobs can be more rapid and thus the career and personal development needed by managers prior to occupying such jobs is severely curtailed.

While attendance at off-the-job courses can be one solution, it is often difficult for busy top managers to find the time needed to attend.

These courses are usually of a general nature and do not address the immediate and specific on the job issues that are the stuff of everyday life for them.

A possible solution that it would be useful to consider is engaging the services of an experienced external consultant/mentor on a more or less regular basis in order to provide the stimulation, development, challenge and objective advice that can improve the performance of CEOs and senior managers who find themselves in the position described above.

Such a service can be of benefit only if the mentor has had lengthy experience in executive positions and consulting roles.

They are ideally placed to provide this service because they know what it is like to be a responsible and accountable senior line manager and have also consulted to a wide variety of executives in their area of management expertise.

The client manager determines the nature and timing of contacts and can expect to be provided with notes on items of management interest to them, feedback on activities/actions proposed by them, a sounding board for new ideas they have and dialogue opportunities in regard to particular management problems that they are encountering.

This type of relationship, which is controlled by the client manager and which can be terminated at any time if it is not producing the desired results, would provide opportunities on the job for the performance improvement needs of the client manager.

Because top managers are not usually the target of no-holds-barred communication in regard to their performance, they need to be prepared for this eventuality and accept it because it is very likely to happen if the mentor is doing his or her job effectively.

* Professor Roger Smith

Graduate School of Management, UWA

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