Mentoring Shouldn’t Stop at the C-suite

May 17, 2017

Mentoring Shouldn’t Stop at the C-suite

Take a moment to consider one of the world’s great platitudes: It’s lonely at the top.

While tired, in today’s business climate it’s a concept that still holds some truth. Executives at the highest spheres of influence can live in a bit of a bubble. Prevailing wisdom is that these executives, many of whom are believed to have reached the pinnacle of their careers, are the ones dishing out advice, and they’ve reached a level where they do not necessarily need to receive mentoring themselves. But this is a faulty assumption.  

The reality is that C-suite members need mentors just like everyone else, and this especially holds true if the executive is new in his or her position. While everyone deserves to have a mentor to help them perform at their best in any new role, for those holding positions at the director level and above, a mentor often becomes more critical to success.

Just ask today’s top business leaders how they ascended into positions of organizational power. Many will be humble enough to admit that they didn’t get there on their own. They’ll acknowledge those who worked with them to overcome challenges.  But they’ll likely also point to mentors that guided them when it was most needed.

C-suite members need mentors just like everyone else.

Defining a Mentor

The most common view of a mentor in the business world is one of a senior manager sharing wisdom with a junior employee. But for the C-suite, executives need to think outside of a hierarchical model to a more shared experience-based model.

A good executive mentor will help their mentee forge a path to a desired outcome or goal, whether that be in life or business. A good executive mentor is not a like-minded individual; rather, he or she possesses the experience and skills to move the executive down that path.  A good executive mentor sees potential and recognizes talents and gifts, and then seeks to further develop them.

Executive mentoring is a multi-faceted endeavor. It is sharing experiences, listening, encouraging and asking thought-provoking questions. But it’s also about helping someone to see blind spots and having tough conversations. An effective mentor should act as a compass, opening individuals to all their possibilities, while increasing their confidence in moving forward.

When to Listen to a Mentor

Mentors are important throughout all stages of a person’s life. The progression of a career can take many unexpected turns, but lead to great outcomes and experiences. It’s important to have those with wisdom helping in making good decisions and considering alternate paths as part of a career journey. This is because having someone to question the motives for actions and decisions made along the way is invaluable to providing a reality check.

As leadership expert John Maxwell says, “A mentor is someone with a head full of experience and heart full of generosity that brings those things together in your life.” The truth is that everyone often needs someone outside of themselves to offer the wisdom of their own experiences. It’s a valuable resource to lean on in dealing with critical moments and recognizing new opportunities.

Executives should not only seek mentors, but should also be mentors.

Consider Mentoring

Executives should not only seek mentors, but should also be mentors. Mentors often find that they benefit from the diverse perspectives of their mentees. This also contributes to staying in touch with the needs of tomorrow’s generation of business leaders.

None of us has all the answers.  Few of us can make it on our own.  Regardless of an executive’s age, experience or level of success, a mentor can be beneficial in reaching new heights, becoming a better version of himself and finding true significance.

The Authors: 

Kim Shreckengost is chief operating officer at The John Maxwell Company. Prior to that she served as EVP-chief of staff and EVP-chief administrative officer at AMB Group and the Atlanta Falcons Football Club.