This title will be provocative for all CEOs; they will find it repulsive; Gods don’t need tutoring. Only mortals do that. CEOs are a distinct and different breed from all other workers in any organization. They are believed to have better skills in arts and science to run institutions. In reality, many would fail the first leadership test, which is to accept a dissenting opinion. Having to sit at the top of the organizational structure does not necessarily mean that the person is a sage who knows everything.
The rapidly changing face of today’s business world requires the recognition that to remain relevant and competitive in the marketplace, companies must operate with precision and disciplined people. Great attention must be paid to facilitating the transfer of knowledge and experience between constituents. Managers are coached by their superiors. The compelling question is who is coaching and mentoring the organization’s number one? Who can be the CEO’s mentor?
A CEO’s line of reporting is to the chairman and board of directors. Therefore, the board can be a mentor. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, a CEO’s other important mentors are the regulators, laws, rules, regulations, procedures, policies, etc.
To decide what type of mentoring a CEO needs, the first thing to consider is what type of CEO has been hired or promoted from the ranks. In the case of an internally selected person, the need to provide guidance on the institutional strategy, their working style, etc. may not be necessary at all; However, if the hired person is new to the organization, they must be supported from the organization’s funds.
The decision to mentor a CEO largely depends on the type of CEO the board of directors desires. If they need a “compliant” CEO with no spine, then mentoring will only be at their (board) risk. Many organizations in our business culture have CEOs who are supposed to be sitting ducks; set to fill the slot to meet regulatory requirements. Like a pilot who has to fly the plane, whose vectors are pre-designed and fully computerized, who is instructed not to touch any buttons on the control panel; but he is saddled in the cockpit to keep the passengers calm that a human is flying the plane! No authority to do anything or indulge in thinking is the kind of CEO that many entrepreneurs want for their organizations.
A person who joins the production department of a pharmaceutical company, for example, does very well as a senior executive – as recognition, they are promoted to manager, later director, general manager, etc., automatically in the race for the CEO post… and that achievement is based on pure productivity efficiency. The board may be tempted to push such a person up as CEO. In our business and corporate culture, it is normal for such an event to occur. Now this humble Simon, good only as a production manager and no more, is pushed into a leadership position that the skills for may not be in the person. The inability to manage an institution is not recognised. Expertise in one or two areas does not entitle anyone to climb the career ladder. Instead, such high performers must be continuously rotated laterally and horizontally across the org chart hierarchy. Heaving an untrained CEO invites tragedy in the Himalayas. We also see this in the government in Islamabad – square (deformed) pins in equally deformed round holes!
Those organizations that stand out usually have CEOs who are willing to learn themselves, to grow, and to be mentored and coached by anyone and everyone. There is never a person in an army of colleagues from whom something of practical value cannot be had. There is always someone to look up to.
CEOs willing to improve themselves show an openness in their attitude to being coached by all peers through individual or collective efforts. Personally, I made a conscious decision and made an effort to be mentored/coached by younger colleagues. Newcomers and newly hired officers are more apt to express open and frank opinions without fear or favor, including direct criticism, which in turn can be very constructive. I believe with unshakable conviction that CEOs need to seek out coaching from young, fresh and unpolluted minds. It helps.
The board of directors usually approves the organization’s strategy, which is developed by both the CEO and his team according to the guidelines he himself has set. The board’s input is usually directional, with the slightest backing of fact, number, or reality. The CEO can and should be overseen by the board, which is responsible for policy making. To achieve this, you need a competent board of directors.
This leads us to review what is important? It is the charter of the board itself. Before selecting a new CEO, the board must first contextualize its own strategic viewpoint in relation to its market, its participants and the nature of its business cycle. The opinions and assumptions underlying the strategy dictate what type of CEO the company needs?
As in a deck of cards there is always a joker, so on the board there is at least one, if not more. You will talk about this and more about the other. A John Falstaff in a boardroom is not uncommon. Those who lack knowledge themselves will not be able to be mentors. Some members are brought onto the board to bring comic relief when things get serious, more clownish than professional. I have seen many who have done good work.
When the board has an overdose of family members, it’s a recipe for management disaster. The agenda of family council members can seriously conflict with good practice. Related party transactions can become a serious bone of contention. In an environment of distrust between the CEO and the board, the possibility of mentoring would not work. Only where there is a professional board of directors with a fair mix of individuals from unique, diverse and distinctive backgrounds can the concept of board mentoring be brought to the table. A board must be composed of members who have knowledge and understanding of accounting, IT, governance standards, best practices, etc.
Recognizing the local business climate, regulators have proactively implemented strict codes of governance in relation to board members and the CEO. The emphasis on non-executive independent directors and limiting the number of family directors was an important step in ending ill-considered decision-making by boards.
CEOs need to be trained to turn their institutions into learning entities that enable them to respond quickly to the challenges of changing market conditions. I’ve seen CEOs look like shipwrecks at the first sign of a change in the status quo. They were mostly those who either weren’t adequately trained for the job or were unaware of their own gaps and inadequacies in conducting business on a healthy basis.
CEOs must indulge in self-evaluation of their performance. As they run the institution, they should have multifunctional expertise given their privileged perspective of overseeing all functions. To assess their work, productivity and performance, CEOs can enlist the help of external evaluators who can conduct a 360 degree assessment/survey within the institution.
For their professional development, CEOs need to encourage themselves to regularly update their knowledge base by taking short and long courses. Such an approach from the CEO leads to a solid support of the learning and development environment within the company. Personally, I believe that when a CEO can run technical programs for senior management related to their industry, they offer themselves to be corrected, retooled and updated. In order to teach, one must learn. Being admitted to learning is the first step towards being willing to be supervised.
The CEO Mentoring Board can develop various feedback formats for him to submit on a regular basis, which can cover areas such as: Identifying the weak and weak areas for improvement. In its assessment, the BOD must express confidence in the CEO and his team or, alternatively, state his opinion on making improvements.
Founder-CEOs can be incorrigible narcissists who would refuse to be guided by the board, let alone become a mentee. This attitude is based on the mistaken belief that, as initiators of business, they “know” everything that needs to be known to conduct business. They strive to attain cult status.
The mantra of all management gurus and scientists is: what gets measured gets done, what gets rewarded gets done repeatedly. If the CEO does not significantly disrupt the status quo, this is a good indication that they lack self-motivation or are weak at influencing colleagues who may be consciously opposed to change.
There is no person who does not need mentoring. It is all about guidance, good advice and advice, both for self-improvement and for the growth of the institution. CEOs must have the courage to be a mentee – and the first trait to be recognized as a top-notch mentee is to be a good listener – listening requires attention and the ability to communicate effective feedback. Being a mentee allows for the expansion of the knowledge base, the improvement of skills and the habit of seeking valuable advice from all quarters. A visible willingness to possess a growth mentality coupled with a willingness to accept constructive criticism is a sign of a leader who knows the importance of following.
When the board is the “boss” of the CEO; it is only fair that the CEO must also have the authority to assess the performance of the board members; how are they up to date with current market trends, do they understand international best practices, etc.
Any CEO who thinks they are “the boss”; gotta read this post again!
The author is a senior banker and freelancer