You've been the CEO of a $60 million manufacturing concern for five years. Lately the ride has been bumpy, and upcoming earnings forecasts aren't encouraging. Your Board has discussed downsizing. You have concerns about losing key people and their know-how and about the dip in employee morale that downsizing would bring. You have problems.

A colleague, aware of your dilemma, suggests using an executive mentor. The idea has merit and you wonder, could an executive mentor be right for you? It means you would gain a confidant , someone to listen, brainstorm, guide and assist you.

Mentoring Is Not New

Mentoring has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks. As Homer tells in The Odyssey, when Ulysses went to war he asked his friend, Mentor, the son of Alcimus, to give advice to his wife and son. Hence, a mentor , one who gives advice and assistance.

One of the first American businessmen to use mentoring was J.C. Penney. In 1901 he started using a system whereby the manager-partner of a Penney store would choose and train another man who could go on to build another store. Penney felt a manager who successfully trained others would benefit practically and spiritually from the experience of guiding another along a path of good and useful living. This gives embodiment to the accepted idea of mentoring , an older, experienced individual providing information and advice to help in the growth and development of someone who is younger and less experienced.

While the J.C. Penney example reflects a part of executive mentoring, there are some key differences. Like any other mentor, an executive mentor is an advisor or coach who meets with an executive on a regular basis to discuss issues and problems. The difference with an executive mentor is that he/she is usually someone outside the company, working on a consulting basis. This distinction is drawn because the individual must be prepared to raise issues that may be difficult to hear or face. As well-known presidential speechwriter Theodore Sorenson notes, "Consistently wise decisions can only be made by someone whose judgment is constantly being challenged."

Principles of Executive Mentoring

Executive mentoring is different from other management acquisition skills and strategies in some important ways. It is very time-efficient. You ask a question and get an answer , not only the "what" and "why," but some philosophy too if you want it. It helps an executive develop general management skills and philosophy in a direct and disciplined way, partially because one is dealing with real-life, street-level problems and challenges as opposed to theories.

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