Great people have Mentors!

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?

Stay safe,

Jordan Imutan
For more articles, please visit 

My Origin Story on Leadership

I am fortunate enough to witness several kinds of leaders through the ’80s, 90’s until today. Leaders I had the privilege to work for comes in different colors, sizes, and shapes. They come from diverse backgrounds, education, and temperament.

For over 30 years in the workforce, I have witnessed how the different leadership styles affected employee morale, productivity, and the organization’s success.

I started work during the Theory X era. Theory X states that “employees require heightened supervision, external rewards, and penalties.” A few elderly leaders would even go to the extent to say the employees are generally lazy. If their boss does not drive them, they will not work. They claim that employees only work if someone is watching over them.

It’s incredible to watch time go by and see many leaders in todays world still having that old Theory X mindset. It’s like they never moved forward with the times. In the past, most works were labor-related. In todays work, jobs require “knowledge” workers.

Stuck in the past, I call them. However, it’s not only the “seasoned” leaders that think this way. Younger Gen-X and the more experienced Gen-Y also carry the notion that employees are simply company tools. These tools will not work correctly if not closely supervised. Employees need supervisors looming over them.

From an employee’s perspective, this is a living hell. Employees are not propertly managed. Meaning they are not developed for their potentiality. They are the first to be blamed when something wrong happens, even if it was a leadership shortcoming. Employees are required to work at all times despite their struggles. Employees are not properly compensated. In the confines of meeting rooms, leaders sometimes talk about them like they are disposable commodities. In public, employees are heralded as the companies most important asset.

You will see employees waiting for the highly paid leaders to leave before they can call it a day. They fear that the bosses will think they are not busy. They will wait for an extra hour or two before heading off home and missing the chance to play with this child before bedtime. They miss tutoring their children because it was already traffic when the leaders go home in their expensive cars. The employees will have to fall in line to take the public transport going home.

They hold back on properly paying their best people. They will wait until a high-potential employee submits their resignation before offering them higher pay or better benefits. Employees put up with this simply because most of them think they do not have options.

I am not generalizing. Do not get me wrong. However, it is unfortunate that this is the situation in most companies. A great workplace should be the rule and not the exception. As Simon Sinek said, “people have the right to love coming to work.”

The sad workplace environment sparked my obsession to study great leaders I came across in my career. It is my mission to learn, apply then teach others the best leadership styles. It is why I am writing articles about great leadership. This is why I run leadership workshops.

I believe that most terrible leader is bad at leadership because they do not know better. It was something they learned or observed from previous bad leaders they had. A former manager used to say, “Monkey see, monkey do.”

Terrible leadership is like a genetic disease that is passed down from one generation to another. Of course, there are still a few genuinely evil leaders in the mix. However, most of them do not know better.

I have witnessed in so many instances employees promoted to leadership positions that are not properly equipped. Newly minted leaders are expected to “magically” morph from a great employee to a great leader. Really? Is it that simple? Come on, guys!

Almost everyone can list several excellent leadership competencies; having a clear and communicated vision, focus on their people agenda, developing direct reports, recognizing outstanding work in public, reprimanding in private, and so on. Yet, very few leaders behave this way.

I know that mentoring future leaders, educating them on leadership competencies, writing articles and books, blogging may not make much of a dent. However, I am at peace that I am trying to do my part.

I will always say that Great Leaders develop people. Great people build great organizations. Only with this can we have great workplaces. I would love to see this one day.

Stay safe,

Jordan Imutan
Visit my website for more articles (email)
@jordanimutan (social media)

How to process wrong decisions

There are two types of leaders when it comes to dealing with their subordinate’s erroneous decisions. On the one hand, you have leaders quick to punish direct reports that make the wrong decision. On the other hand, there are the leaders that genuinely care for the learning of the direct report. The servant-leader is the second one.

When I worked as the head of Banking Operations a few years ago in Saudi Arabia, I made an erroneous decision. Actually, I made several but different wrong choices in my career. However, I also experienced different ways of processing by my direct manager.

Back then, I was reporting to a British direct supervisor. One of the departments reporting to me was payment processing. The responsibility included fund transfers both local and abroad. It also carried the responsibility of payroll processing for our corporate and government clients.

When I took on the new role, I was utterly dependent on my direct reports to walk me through the critical processes of their function. I depended on my manager in charge of payroll processing. 

The department was in charge of processing over 700 entities. The payroll we processed was a combination of corporate and government payroll. It was a sensitive process. We could not afford a single mistake. 

When we started offering the service, we only had about 20-30 payroll clients. The process involved the client preparing and sending a payroll file in a physical CD. The CD was delivered three days before the actual payroll run. 

As the number of clients grew, I should have questioned the manual process that the department was following. Manually processing payroll for 700 entities is different from processing 30. I had a feeling that the process might blow up one day. However, I decided to rely on the current manual process. I asked my payroll manager about the scalability of the process. He said that it still works.

One payroll day, we got a call from an angry CEO of one of the biggest companies in Saudi Arabia. He accused us of debiting his payroll fund twice. After the CEO investigated, he found out that his 18,000 employees received their payroll TWICE. Yes, twice. Everyone thought that they were given a bonus on that payroll run. We are talking about millions of Saudi Riyals in duplicate payment.

We quickly tried to resolve the issue by debiting their employees’ accounts. We can only do this with employees who had their payroll account with our bank. If the funds were already withdrawn, the system would automatically transfer any income fund to our bank account until the amount was fully recovered.

The problem was with employees with accounts from another bank. We do not have control over their system. The only thing we can do is practically beg the payment operations of the other bank to retrieve our funds.

In the end, it took us a grueling three months to recover 95% of the overdrawn funds. The bank took the hit for the 5%. We needed to pay back our corporate client.

Through this entire ordeal, my direct manager was calm. The priority is to come up with a recovery plan. As we implemented the recovery plan, he talked to me in private. We spoke calmly through the series of events. As expected, I took responsibility for what happened. I decided to trust my payroll manager and stay with the status quo. My British manager highlighted the flaws in the decision-making process and the lessons learned. We also agreed on preventive measures. The incident did not happen again.

The beauty of all this is that my manager did not look at my performance from a single event. He used the event as a learning opportunity to show me how to make better decisions. I respected him more after that incident. 

Let me compare that to another event. This friend of mine was slowly rising in his company. He was getting more assignments. However, instead of deciding to push back when the load was too much, he decided to keep accepting them. The challenge was that he was expected to excel in his additional assignments quickly. Years of experience from the previous manager must be rapidly learned in a week or two.

One day, the load was too much, and he made a mistake with two decisions. His direct manager was a very successful entrepreneur that he looked up to. My friend also wished that one day he could be like his manager. He learned a lot from his direct manager with the time he worked with him. He was ever so grateful for everything.

The decision to keep accepting new assignments was flawed. My friend should have requested a gap between appointments to have the time to assimilate the added responsibility. The resulting two erroneous decisions have stripped him of his additional responsibilities. My friend was fine witb the reduction of responsibilities. He understood his limitations. The sad part was that the fault sidelined him. He no longer has a bright future in the company. All the potentiality he previously showed does not matter anymore.

These are two different approaches to processing wrong decisions. Indeed, failure is part of success. 

If I may add, a failure correctly processed is part of success. Not only do we learn from it, but we also build others with it.

Stay safe,

Jordan Imutan (email)
@jordanimutan (social media)