Will there ever be a time in your career when you will not need a mentor, a trusted advisor who can be a good and knowledgable listener and who will tell you the truth even when they know it is not what you want to hear?
Every CEO I have ever met has had days or months when the pressures of running a complex organization, or even personal or family struggles, pushed their morale, their sense of optimism, into the dirt. In the dirt is not a good place to be when all eyes are on the leader.
My answer is no. CEOs are, after all, mere mortals and hospitals are among the most complex and challenging human organizations ever created by man, or so says the legendary management guru Peter Drucker. So what does a CEO do when he or she hits one of those morale bashing professional or personal potholes? CEOs need a place to get advice or to vent frustrations. For the CEO’s managers, most have trusted friends in town or even within the organization. But given a CEO’s very visible position within a small to medium-sized community, with conventional wisdom cautioning against trusting anyone within the organization, or even someone in town, where does a CEO go to gain perspective?
We are never too experienced to rely on a mentor. Amazingly, many CEOs who relied on a mentor to help them navigate their way to the top, suddenly make a very lonely job that much more isolated by failing to sustain those kind of important relationships.
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Some CEOs tell me that they maintain three to five people they trust to provide insight and guidance. One said that 75 percent of his current mentor network moved into that role of trusted advisor over the last five to 10 years, as older advisors died or became incapacitated.
A CEO from Chicago said that he uses his network like an informal career advisory board. He keeps them informed of the significant challenges, major decisions and outcomes. About once every six weeks, that CEO explained, he sends his mentors what he described as a business intelligence assessment letter, detailing operational and financial summaries, a review of major initiatives, a rundown of opposing points of view, and key decisions on the horizon. This CEO said he approaches each letter with the determination to provide an honest and balanced assessment of the issues. “It is a remarkable tool to help keep me balanced,” he said.
Four times a year he provides his mentor a larger package that includes press releases, PR announcements and other developments to help round out the hospital’s operating and financial position.
By having this kind of information, the CEO added, when I initiate a conversation, my mentors are already up to speed.
“I am not looking for a boss, I already have seven very good bosses — my Board. I am looking for someone who may see something that I am missing, or who is willing to tell me when he or she thinks I am wrong on an issue.”
While most senior executive almost never go to this much effort to engage their advisors, this CEO takes a very different approach. Healthcare is changing in so many dynamic ways, he said, so why would a leader want to short-change themselves in getting the kind of advice that will help overcome those down times that almost all CEOs experience, and to avoid sending negative vibes to their team.
“I am pretty confident with my perspective and my judgment,” he said. “ These people are my counter-balance to keep me from believing my own press.”