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Is Mentoring A Lost Art In Business?

Catching up recently with a senior Director of a FTSE 10 company, we touched upon the topic of business mentoring, an area I have a keen interest in, given the nature of my work within talent management. Interestingly, his organisation have long-since embraced the concept of mentoring and it is firmly embedded within their culture with everyone from the Chairman and CEO through to Managers at all levels specifically allocating time with less senior employees to help provide guidance, input and advice to them both on a personal and professional basis.


The concept of mentoring is well-entrenched within this Director’s global corporate and needless to say, not only is the company very successful but they have a notable lack of attrition across most of their management and executives. This organisation also has a robust culture and a collegiate environment where there seems to be strong camaraderie and a unified purpose. Whilst we cannot attribute all of these traits to the mentoring philosophy, it does raise the point for debate. Are companies, large and small, utilising mentoring as a tool to enhance their business or is mentoring now a forgotten art-form in the lives of busy and time-pressed executives?

Many of the most successful leaders of our generation, when citing their early influences, will point towards a mentor of some description. It is also clear that those who have been coached and influenced by great leaders, perhaps even later in their careers, very often themselves go on to become talented leaders. The insight that a good mentor can provide during one’s career and life journey can be invaluable as it usually provides the benefit of wisdom that experience and hindsight bring. Yet, a question many businesses need to ask themselves is this; are they harnessing mentoring to nurture their current and future leaders and if so, to what extent? Are the executives who have helped get a business to a successful point and who have accumulated years of deep-founded expertise then going on to provide guidance and counsel for those within their companies who could most benefit? Is this being done in a systematic way so that generations of leaders can always benefit from those who have gone before? Is there a pervading culture of mentoring across the organisation?

It can be argued that many Chairmen across industry naturally embrace this logic and take the time as part of their roles to support the executive leadership in this way. Equally, we see this contribution from many Non-Executive Directors and certainly most Boards have built up a credible rosta of advisors to provide exactly this kind of support. However, it can also be pointed out that for some businesses, this is done on more of an ad-hoc or on a specific requirement basis rather than as a structured and key part of the organisation’s manifesto or as a critical task for the business leadership. No matter how experienced or capable, many of the key leaders in any organisation would benefit from dedicated mentoring time, for example a NED with the CFO, the Chairman with the CEO and so forth.

Whilst mentoring is certainly impactful at Board level, a holistic approach would reap the most rewards. Divisional/Regional leaders often do not get dedicated mentoring time from their Board Directors and in turn, it can often be seen that these Divisional/Regional leaders fail to provide their own leadership teams with this level of personal support. There is an argument that many will point towards that if they are to mentor, then it would incur exclusivity within the workforce where some are given this support and others are not provided for. This could indeed be true but mentoring need not be restricted to your own team or function. Cross-fertilisation is highly valuable as a Divisional MD is as likely to provide invaluable advice to a Finance Director or a Marketing Manager as anyone else. Another idea is to have a meritocracy for mentoring where if you achieve high set-performance criteria, you are then eligible for a dedicated mentor. This could be a strong way to reward the efforts of the more talented staff and ensure that they feel valued whilst also providing the wider employees with a target to aim for.

With such intense demands on modern-day executives, it is small wonder that mentoring isn’t as common an occurrence as it should be. However, if industry as a whole begins to take a different view to this issue and recognises mentoring for the powerful tool it is, then there can only be positive output in terms of improved capability amongst business employees. The knowledge capital within a business is as valuable if not more so than any infrastructure and mentoring is a way to ensure it remains within the business even when talented leaders move on. The benefits of mentoring surely far outstrip the time expended but it requires a forward-thinking company to instil a truly structured and meaningful approach. With more debate and focus around this topic, more organisations and leaders could well embrace the idea of taking the time to mentor the next generation, ensuring mentoring doesn’t become a thing of the past.

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