Why As CEO You Should Have A Coach Or Mentor

Natasha Olsson-Seeto

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13 | OnTalent

They say it’s lonely at the top!  Here you are a new, or maybe just your current organisation’s new CEO.  You may have a comprehensive induction or in some cases you are just left to navigate on your own.   Those first few weeks and months are critical and set up what will eventually be known as your legacy. Thinking about the impact of your leadership and how you’ll be referred to when you eventually leave – is a powerful way to establish intentional leadership habits.

As a new CEO, you are likely to face situations that are very different from what you experienced as an executive. Suddenly, you’re expected to have all the answers when really you should be the one with all the questions. One of the first steps when preparing for your newly acquired position is the consideration of getting a coach or mentor.  Think about this as your ‘navigator’ – all ship captains have a navigator – in the corporate world and as a CEO you may have several.  A coach or mentor is a critical member of your navigational team.

This type of support will help you adjust to your new role, find the most challenging and exciting opportunities for your team, be with you through times when you are challenged as a leader and support you to lead more effectively. As a CEO, it’s important to have someone who understands the specific challenges that come with this role and can provide candid feedback on how you’re handling things. In this article, I will explore why CEOs need mentorship in order to accelerate their growth and performance, how coaches can help, and the qualities of an ideal coach or mentor.

Why Having A Coach Or Mentor Is Important For CEOs

As a Chief Executive, I know firsthand how much you have on your plate.  The juggle is real! You have to manage a team and lead your company towards achieving its vision. In some cases, CEOs are promoted from within their organisation’s team. This means that they may not know how to lead the team effectively, due to having less experience than they would if they were hired into the position externally. On another note, given the company’s growth or the challenges it is facing, you may find yourself having to lead with a different style than what you might have done in the past. This is not easy and for me, is where having a coach or mentor can come in handy.

In fact, many CEOs in large organsiations have gained mentoring and other developmental programs throughout their career. CEOs should acquire mentorship rather than assume that their new role is a burden to be shouldered alone. According to Harvard Business Review’s survey on mentoring arrangements, 71% of leaders were certain that company performance had improved and 84% believe that their mentorship helped them avoid crucial mistakes while gaining proficiency in their roles a lot faster.  That’s why a coach or mentor can help you adjust, find opportunities for you to inspire and sometimes change your team (you are either changing the people, or changing people), and help you lead more effectively.  What’s important is that these sessions have an objective, and that time is set aside to complete the process to avoid getting lost with other demands. Your coach/mentor should be your leadership Personal Trainer – flexing, stretching, challenging, and supporting your leadership muscle and recognising when the muscle needs some rehabilitation or rest.

What’s the difference between a coach and mentor?

A coach and mentor are both types of external advisors who can support your growth and help you achieve your goals. However, the key difference between the two is that while coaches have the know-how to give feedback and fill the gaps in managerial skills, they may not have taken the position themselves. In contrast, mentors are usually people with a lot of experience in your field and often have been in your shoes. Mentors can draw from their own experiences of previously taking up the role, which in turn, provides context-specific counsel, wisdom and networks that are relevant to the problem needing to be solved. You can work with both a coach and a mentor, but it is often recommended that you work with one or the other, and not at the same time as you may get conflicting guidance.  If you are lucky, you may find someone who can play the role of both – an experienced coach who has been a busy CEO is gold!

How coaches can help you as a CEO

A coach will help you adjust to your new role and lead more effectively by helping you spot opportunities for personal and team growth. As your coach, they will ask you questions about what you would like to accomplish and the challenges you would like to face. Then, the coach will aid you in navigating these challenges, which will help you grow in your role and become a more effective leader. There are many ways a coach will help you navigate these challenges. For example, your coach could assist you with managing more time for yourself and for the tasks that are most important for your team.  This is a typical issue for new CEOS whose additional responsibilities implicate their personal life, making work-life balance more difficult, particularly in the initial stages.

How mentors can help you as a CEO

Perhaps the biggest advantage of obtaining a mentorship is the experience and perspective mentors can provide. These people have gone through the same process that you have and with their years of experience, have faced diverse obstacles, witnessed market transformations, and can give you invaluable wisdom you won’t gain from training resources. By providing you with thoughts and suggestions, receiving mentorship can transpire to more innovative CEOs.  They could also help you find the right people to hire for your team. Another way mentors help you lead more effectively is by guiding you through your strengths and the best way to lead your team based on understanding those strengths.

3 qualities of an ideal coach or mentor

One of the biggest obstacles to setting up formal executive coaching and mentoring, is ensuring the alignment (chemistry) between mentor and mentee. Sometimes, CEOs who enter a mentoring process with a board member feel that they have less preparation time and experience a sense of pressure to prove their competency. This is where external consultants who retain expertise in matching you with the right mentor through their networks and insights from their executive training, become useful. The unaffiliated help not only provides the need for relevant experience but offers broad perspectives from someone outside the organisation. When looking for a coach or mentor, you want to make sure you choose someone who will be a good fit for you and your company. To do that, you should look for ideal qualities in a coach or mentor. Here are three that are important:

Expertise:  An ideal coach or mentor will have expertise in your field, such as marketing, product development, and finance. By being provided information and guidance based on their unique business experiences, they can offer insights into the challenges that new CEOs will confront in their field.

Fit: An ideal mentor or coach for you will also be a good fit for your team. For example, if you and your team like to work in a certain way, your mentor or coach should fit into that work style.

Trust: When selecting a mentor, it’s important to gain guidance from someone you trust and can be vulnerable around. To truly benefit from this process, having a mentor with no authority and ambition in the company provides a safe space for CEOs to disclose their concerns and challenges. Instead, your mentor will influence you to think about what you want to achieve and help you view your plan holistically to understand the bigger picture.

Conclusion

As a CEO, it’s imperative you put your oxygen mask on first.  Invest in your leadership to ensure your team and organisation have the best opportunity to achieve your vision and build a strong and aligned culture. It’s imperative you assemble your navigation crew.  As a first step, you should consider getting a coach or mentor. A coach can help you adjust to your new role or changes in your current situation and assist you with leading more effectively. They will help you identify areas where you can improve your skills. From my experience, having a coach or mentor to help with navigating the challenges of being a CEO is instrumental to becoming effective and confident in your role as a leader a lot faster.

At OnTalent we provide first 90 days coaching to all CEOs (and often Senior Executives) placed through our recruitment team. We find this ensures an effective transition and sees our CEOs up and running much faster – especially when we utilise insights gained from the recruitment process.

We have an exceptional group of coaches/mentors available to support you in your CEO journey.  Reach out to our head of Careers, Leadership and Consulting, Deborah Wilson or to me to discuss how we can support you to lead with purpose.

Natasha Olsson-Seeto is Chief Executive and a Director on the OnTalent Board. Natasha is also on the National Board and elected past Chair – Recruitment and Consultants Services Association (RCSA) in Queensland, Non-Executive Director and Chair of the People, Performance and Culture Committee of Food Bank Queensland and Ambassador of the Brisbane Club.

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