I first learned about performance mentorship over fifteen years ago. The National Commercial Bank’s CEO has instituted a mentoring program across the different levels of the organization. The primary objective is to transfer best leadership practices to high-potential Saudi nationals positioned to succeed in critical roles in the Bank.
All foreign executives, like myself, were trained on the GROW mentoring framework. Our HR Director flew in a British mentoring expert to teach us. The same expert mentored our CEO, CFO, and COO. Mr. Bryan flew from the UK to have his sessions in Jeddah every two weeks.
Each Bank executive looked after the development of three to four high-potential Saudi managers to mentor. We were not assigned anyone from our departments or divisions. The set-up allowed the mentee to open up to the mentor fully.
Part of the program is a structured monthly report to the mentee’s direct manager. Of course, the monthly reports captured the progress of the mentee. We are not allowed to share anything confidential to make sure we maintain the trust of the mentee.
On the other side of the coin, we were also assigned more senior executives to mentor us. “You cannot give what you don’t have,” as the saying goes. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to our Saudi CFO, who studied at the prestigious Harvard University.
A few lessons I learned still resonates today.
- 80% of a leader’s job is to work on the people’s agenda and not micro-managing. The agenda covers everything from interviewing candidates to mentoring and developing high-potential employees.
- Mentorship requires a structure and intention. It’s not an ad hoc activity. There need to be clear goals, areas for improvement, and an action plan.
- Never use sarcasm as a way to express yourself in public. You automatically kill the motivation of the person at the receiving end of your attack. The rest of the people in the room also lose the courage to voice out concerns and issues. They will all fear being at the receiving end of the next wave of sarcastic remarks.
- Performance appraisals are never about passing or failing people. It’s about identifying areas for improvement. It’s about working with your direct report to get an ‘A.’
- Never lose sight of the big picture. Sometimes we get dragged into the details that we don’t see the forest for the trees.
- There is no such thing as a self-made man or a self-made leader. We all need someone else to succeed.
- When my mentor needs to explain a project or task, he would often go to the whiteboard and patiently draw what’s on his mind. He makes sure that there is clear communication between us.
- When making a mistake, my mentor would first process the events with me with no pre-judgment. He would instead try to understand what transpired. He would then address the situation and identify the learnings from it without attacking the mentee personally. At the end of the process, you come out more motivated and knowledgeable.
- Something I learned from our Pastors is aligned to Servant Leadership though it’s not formally recognized as such. Everything we do should not be for our glory and boasting. Our achievements and work are to glorify the giver of our talents and opportunities. It’s all to glorify God.
- There is no such thing as a silly question. There is such a thing as a ‘silly’ person who is too embarrassed to ask. If we don’t ask, then we will never know the answer. Therefore, we remain silly. Never attack what we may deem as a ‘silly’ question. Our people may never ask again for fear of embarrassment.
There are many more lessons learned from him and other mentors I had the honor to work with. I will share them in subsequent articles.
A few of the people I met when I came back also had mentors.
- The President of a giant retail company has three mentors for the different aspects of his life.
- A famous Pastor friend of mine also has several mentors he consults with.
- The President of a small rural Bank I know has a mentor for over ten years.
- I had the opportunity to mentor the Philippine Country Manager of a large Japanese company. We maintained the friendship even after he left the company. He started his own business, and we continued to keep in touch. He loves to travel so he can join marathons.
- I mentored the owner of a service provider in the Pharma Industry and eventually became good friends with her. She’s a great person, a great leader, a great mother, a great grandmother, and a great friend.
- I had the opportunity to mentor several company executives, senior managers, the child of a high-ranking politician, children of company owners. Each was a unique experience that I am genuinely grateful for.
Mentoring works both ways. The mentor also learns from the experience. I understand more about people and what makes them tick. I also know more about the industry they work in.
I emphasize with my mentees to pass the learnings forward. Learn, use and teach others. This way, we can slowly grow the competencies of leaders across the nation. It may be one by one and take a long time. However, it’s better than complaining about the current leadership and doing nothing.
How about you? Who is your mentor?