Meet The Mentors
Successful mentoring can be an effective way of helping people to progress in their careers and is becoming increasing popular as its potential is realised, as two insurance heavyweights found out when they recently became mentors writes Michelle Worvell
Michelle Worvell explains what mentoring is not about and highlights how successful mentoring can effectively help people progress in their careers. Two big insurers are used as examples to explain the different effective approaches used in mentoring by these companies that are quite different from the conventional idea.
Meet The Mentors
When most people think of mentoring they imagine a scenario where they are coaching or developing an individual, usually junior to them, within their company.
However, when two heavyweights from the insurance industry recently joined the ranks of business leader mentoring specialist Merryck & Co’s UK arm – Andy Homer, non executive director of Towergate and BIBA chairman; and Annette Court, formally of Direct Line and currently non executive director of both JLT and Admiral, both wanted to give something back to their fellow CEOs. Merryck has a very different approach in that when choosing mentors it only selects, trains and deploys former leaders who have themselves run complex businesses. They tend to be a CEO, president, or division leader and need at least 10 years’ experience in those roles. Ms Court, who only became a mentor in December, has just taken on her first client and explains, “The concept is that we bring something of our experience – be that good or bad. We are there as mentors to support senior executives in their development. Generally, I am dealing with individuals who are very high calibre and are stepping up to a new role or a new area of responsibility.” The client has to go through a stringent four step process – Scoping, Casting, Chemistry and the Retreat – to ensure they are paired with exactly the right mentor for their leadership style, priorities and business challenges. Establishing the right chemistry between the client and the mentor is vital. At this stage, either mentor or client can walk away from the relationship. Having jointly committed to the engagement through the first three steps the clients then go on the Retreat – a two-day, one-toone session with the mentor and new client. Held away from the
demands foundation of for business the ongoing and home, relationship. the Retreat It is here lays that the mentor and client identify the most critical priorities facing the business and the leader. They lay out an action plan and milestones for ensuring progress against those priorities. It can be both lonely and tough at the top so it can be extremely beneficial for these high flyers to have a mentor that they can simply talk to and bounce ideas off. “It’s one-on-one so you form a very strong relationship with the individual,” explains Ms Court. “We are not trying to do their roles for them but are there to provide a sounding board to challenge them. It is very much business driven and we see ourselves as being ‘blue suits’ rather than ‘white coats’. “You put a bit of yourself into it as well as someone who has been there, done that and got the t-shirt.” She explains some companies offer coaching services that tend to be more academic but that this is not the approach Ms Court takes. “In my career I did have people that helped me in various ways and gave me opportunities so this is a continuation of this. There is also the opportunity to develop yourself. You are not on your own as you are part of a faculty – that meets regularly to talk about different situations – but not individual circumstances as the whole process are highly confidential.” Mr Homer has been a mentor slightly longer than Ms Court, having joined Merryck’s back in February last year. He currently has three clients from the financial services, construction and energy sectors respectively. What particularly attracted Mr Homer to mentoring was the opportunity to be involved in mentoring people who were not in the insurance industry. Mr Homer comments, “What has surprised me is how much the people that I am working with benefit from having someone in their corner that they can trust completely – who is not their boss or peer.”
… what makes someone a good mentor? According to Mr Homer, it is a mixture of humility, emotional intelligence and curiosity. But most importantly for him it is about having positive outcomes.
“Where do you go for the things that you can’t talk about with your boss, board or chairman? Real leadership is a lonely occupation and you may make it for three to five years if you are lucky. Leaders are under enormous pressure and the idea of a mentor is that they are in their corner – helping them but pushing them too.” Although he deliberately does not mentor anyone from the insurance industry he believes there is no disadvantage to mentoring clients from other sectors as there are some universal aspects that all CEOs face. These include future strategy, the strength of your team, and how you get on with the board. Mr Homer says he is also surprised how open these very senior leaders are about how they are feeling; as many business leaders carry the pressure, stress and loneliness within themselves. “What is rewarding is when they talk about their hopes, their fears and the balance that they have or don’t have in their life. Mentoring brings an understanding and appreciation of what they are going through.” “Mentoring is also about future state – we want to know where do they want to get to personally, where do they want the business to get to, what do they want the strategy to do? We tend to deal with positive outcomes. What is success going to look like – how is it going to feel? That is a really important part of what mentors do.” So what makes someone a good mentor? According to Mr Homer, it is a mixture of humility, emotional intelligence and curiosity. But most importantly for him it is about having positive outcomes. “No matter who you are, or what you have achieved – mentors can make you even better – and you can make yourself even better. What we do is help you articulate that and help you though the process of achieving it – but at the end of the day it all comes from you.”
It can be both lonely and tough at the top so it can be extremely beneficial for these high flyers to have a mentor that they can simply talk to and bounce ideas off.
Leaders are under enormous pressure and the idea of a mentor is that they are in their corner – helping them
but pushing them too.