Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mentoring: a tool for increased effectiveness

About 15 years ago I received a call from the Managing Director of a major Australian mining company. He was a very experienced CEO with a very high reputation but a person I had never met. He told me that he had heard about me from another CEO and that he was looking for a person with whom he could share his thoughts and "fly a kite" without any fear that what was said could end up in the media or be leaked to anyone else. We agreed to meet with a view to me providing him with mentoring.

At that meeting I asked him what he was looking for in a mentor. His reply was succinct and to the point:
  1. knowledge and experience in leadership and related issues
  2. someone who would stretch his thinking
  3. absolute confidentiality
  4. someone who was prepared to think "outside the box" - especially outside of mining!
  5. not a "yes man"
  6. total honesty - if I thought he was speaking bovine excrement, tell him!
  7. regular face-to-face meetings plus regular scheduled telephone contact
  8. unlimited access by phone or meeting when an urgent issue arose and relating to which he wanted outside opinion

We agreed to give it a try and my work as a mentor had suddenly started! Today that same man is a director of several public companies and Chairman of at least one. I still get phone calls from time to time.

These days "mentoring" has become a buzz word and there are myriad mentoring services available - some even in unexpected arenas such as the family (see, for example, http://www.m-for-m.com.au which provides mentoring to parents of new born babies) - because the concept has proved itself as an extremely valuable aid in helping people learn, grow, and become more effective.

So what is mentoring?

I like the definition given by Bozeman Feeny in 2007: "mentoring is a process for transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protege)."

Back in the 1980's a writer named Christopher Meyer said: "a leader uses only one tool: him or herself. Like any other tool, the more we know the tool's potential and limitations, the more effectively we can use it. Leadership is therefore dependent on self-knowledge and awareness."

Do you constantly seek to know more about your potential and limitations? As Meyer says, in the long-term, you as a person are really the only tool you have.

Mentoring can help you become a better leader.

More information about Douglas Long at http://www.dglong.com

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