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How important is it for a first time CEO to have an outside coach or a mentor?

Anonymous asks

How important is it for a first time CEO to have an outside coach or a mentor?

Marten Mickos

Coaches and mentors can have a dramatic positive influence on CEOs. It’s a pity that we don’t have enough of them for everyone. I, for one, have benefited enormously from mentorship. Top athletes have their coaches, so why wouldn’t top business leaders have theirs?

Note: A coach is typically someone with a focused (often time-limited) agenda to help you improve a particular skill or performance. A mentor is a facilitator with no particular agenda. It is generally best when you are not in a reporting or other subservient relationship to your coach or mentor.

Mentoring is a sensitive relationship, entirely dictated by personal chemistry. You can’t ask a senior person on first meeting if they would like to be your mentor. That’s why looking for one can take a long time. Be patient and persistent! Instead of asking directly if someone wants to be your mentor, ask them if they know of a good mentor. They may have a good recommendation for you, or if you are lucky, they will say “well, how about me?”.

Ideally, we would see every human being as a potential mentor. If we are open to advice from people who wish us well, we can draw mentorship from everyday interaction with many different people.


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