The April 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review features an article entitled CEOs Need Mentors Too, in which Suzanne de Janasz and Maury Peiperl describe their two-year inquiry into CEO mentoring. Noting that CEOs with high-profile veteran leaders as their mentors tend to experience improved performance, better decision-making, happier stakeholders, and fewer costly mistakes, the authors present veteran/protégé mentoring as a compelling way for CEOs to accelerate their learning.
CEOs, they assert, need mentors with relevant experience (have sat in the leadership hot seat), broad perspective (understand how the company is perceived in the marketplace), and complete trust (come from the outside). Such mentors, they explain,
“ . . . can offer timely, context-specific counsel drawn from experience; wisdom; and networks that are highly relevant to the problems to be solved. And unlike company-managed mentoring programs, CEO mentoring is driven by the mentee, reflecting a level of customization rarely provided to people in the ranks.”
I agree with the authors. Having served as a CEO, I can attest to the value and importance of experienced veterans being in your corner. That said, I’m just not sure I agree with the authors’ definition of mentoring. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that my bread is buttered on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I not only lived one-fifth of my life in England, but I also trained as a professional mentor under David Clutterbuck, one of Europe’s foremost pioneers and thinkers in the areas of mentoring and coaching.
Should Mentoring be Transactional or Relational?
At issue for me is the question of the purpose of mentoring. In his seminal and groundbreaking work Everyone Needs a Mentor, Clutterbuck explains that there are fundamental differences in the traditional underpinnings of mentoring in the United States and in Europe.
In the United States, formal mentoring programs are historically rooted in “sponsorship” dynamics that are typically transactional in form.
“[The] mentor’s authority and power to influence were important factors, and the learning that did happen tended to be one-way – from mentor to protégé. Mentors tended to be senior (usually much older) people, who were much further along the career path the protégé had recently embarked on.” (Preface xii.)
In Europe by contrast, mentoring emerged as a more “developmental” and collaborative model that emphasized mutual learning and mentee self-improvement. Says Clutterbuck,
“Rather than do things for the mentee, the mentor helped them with the quality of their thinking about issues important to them. The mentor still required relevant experience, but used it less to guide the mentee along the path they had taken, than to craft the questions that would help the mentee create their own path.” (Preface xii.)
While American and European mentoring approaches are now coalescing around the belief that the relationship should be mentee-driven, there is still somewhat of a departure in philosophy. As the Harvard Business Review article demonstrates, in the American approach, performance is the basic currency of the mentoring relationship. Hence, the quality of the interaction can be determined by the results it produces.
In the European approach by contrast, self-awareness is the currency of the mentoring relationship. Mentors are judged, not by the extent of their relevant professional experience, but by their ability to hold back and allow mentees to learn for themselves. Mentees, in turn, are evaluated by how much they grow. As Clutterbuck suggests, this type of mentoring is more akin to pastoral care.
Who do You Want to be When You Grow Up?
In the fast-paced, results-oriented economy that is the United States, it is inevitable that CEOs will be judged on performance. And having experienced the hot seat for myself, there is no question in my mind that CEOs should absolutely have access to the type of veteran-protégé relationships for which de Janasz and Peiperl are compelling advocates.
Nevertheless, I believe it will be a missed opportunity if we do not also encourage CEOs to seek out the type of mentoring relationships that can help them grow in wisdom beyond the scope of their immediate professional lives and responsibilities.
For we surely want our CEOs to engage in the great debate about the good society. We need our CEOs to take meaningful positions on the important global and local questions of our time. We desire our CEOs to participate in bringing solutions to the many political, economic, social, and environmental challenges that our world and communities continues to face. And we aspire for our CEOs to love their neighbors as themselves.
To live up to these expectations, our CEOs will need assistance – help in the form of co-learners with remarkable giftedness to ask the right questions and stimulate deep reflection – help to ignite them to consider who they want to be when they grow up and to contemplate how they will contribute to matters of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, amongst other things.
On these points, I find convergence: that everyone needs a mentor and that CEOs need mentors too.