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‘Mentoring Executives and Directors’ by David Clutterbuck and DAvid Megginson


Mentoring Executives & Directors
Authors: David Clutterbuck and David Megginson
Publisher: Butterworth-Heinemann
Date: 1999
ISBN: 0 7506 3695 5
Price: GBP 19.99

Reading this book was rather like reading a novel – and I found it hard to put it down! The bulk of the book consists of 22 case studies of mentoring in action. Told by the people involved, including mostly the mentors or mentees (and, in some cases, both), with just a sprinkling of human resource professionals, it made fascinating reading. One of the mentors mentions the need to share with your mentee some personal information about yourself, so that listening to the mentee then talk about personal issues does not seem like voyeurism. I had that same sense of voyeurism as I read the very frank accounts of people’s experiences in mentoring relationships.

I recommend that any executives or directors considering becoming a mentor or mentee read this book before they start. The stories are so varied that it will undoubtedly help you clarify what you want, and don’t want, within a mentoring relationship. And existing mentors and mentees might usefully read the book and compare reactions – what is there that you might add, or remove, from your relationship?

The book opens with a useful section that sets the scene for mentoring, and closes with another helpful section that pulls together many of the themes that emerge from the case studies.

In the first section, I was particularly struck by:

- the metaphor of mentoring as climbing a mountain, and needing help most when we come to the really steep bits, especially those where we really need to be roped to someone else. For me, this positions the book very clearly in the area of traditional mentoring; the book cover includes a picture of a male being offered a hand up a mountain by someone (who could be male or female) who is already further up.

- what the authors call ‘curtain raisers for mentoring’ – a very useful checklist of the key issues for mentees. It struck me that you could read this to see how relevant the book will be for you; you could also use it as a prompt for questions a mentor might ask.

- a description of what happens when we are allowed ‘personal reflective space’ – I especially liked the model which showed how energy levels change as we go from disaggregation (I had to refer to the dictionary to understand that this means pulling the whole apart - and my spellchecker offered desegregation) through framing, implication analysis, insight (lowest level of physical energy – you need to sit down for this!), and on through reframing, options and into action (high level energy again).

- a very thorough list of questions for the mentor to ask that will take the mentoring relationship into the sphere of emotional intelligence, plus clues to look out for that will indicate the mentee lacks EI.

The final section is just as useful, with numerous checklists and summaries. Some that I thought were especially novel were:

- a diagram showing the parallel processes by which directors and others in their organisations tend to create a ‘trust barrier’ – for example, reluctance to admit weaknesses is paralleled by expectations of infallibility.

- a model of mentoring as role modelling that incorporates alliteration to help us remember that this needs to be a temporary situation only and it is important to move on - so that acceptive awareness leads to admiration leads to adaptation leads to advancement leads to astute awareness (page 143).

- more useful checklists, including: over 50 statements of mentee outcomes (so you could look through and see if yours is there); the qualities of mentors (does yours/do you have them?); challenging questions for mentors to ask a mentee about the business, relationships, and the mentee themself; challenging questions for the mentor to ask themself as part of deciding whether they need mentoring supervision; and a chart of types of match in mentoring relationships, based on similarities and differences in personality and experience.

So what about the shortcomings of the book! There were few as long as the reader keeps in mind the title – it is about mentoring executives and directors. There is therefore a heavy emphasis on "make myself noticed .. enhance my career prospects .. get myself assigned to the ‘right’ projects" (page 4) and "achieve influence rather than command .. providing an effective role model for the values the top team espouses" (Page 5).

I was also intrigued to read that, within reflective space "It is far from unusual to see an executive – male or female – break into tears as they relive a particularly frustrating episode .." (page 17). This left me wondering about the boundaries with counselling; I also noticed that this sort of reaction is not mentioned within the case studies.

Several of the mentors in the case studies said that they had not had a mentor themselves. I wondered about their beliefs around this – if they had been successful without a mentor, how did they rationalise their own mentoring role. Because the case studies were based on free-form interviews, there had been no challenges to such comments. We can contrast this with the comment of one that ".. I am convinced that it would be hard to become a good mentor if you have never felt what it means to be mentored yourself." (page 102).

Associated with this, there are mentions of top managers lending support to mentoring schemes by becoming mentors themselves – but no mentions of them becoming mentees. I was reminded of a senior police officer I once heard explaining how junior officers involved in a traumatic incident were being offered counselling – but then saying that he had no need of such counselling himself!

An irritation was the fact that the authors refer to review formats being available but did not include them in the book. Instead they give you their own and another address to obtain these, leaving me wondering whether this was a ploy to get readers onto their mailing lists (although that in itself might be no bad thing if you are interested in staying up-to-date with mentoring).

And finally – I loved reading of the "Ninja Principle : Never Interfere; Never Judge or Advise." (page 127)

Reviewed by Julie Hay, Chief Executive of training consultancy A.D. International and author of Transformational Mentoring : Creating Developmental Alliances for Changing Organisational Cultures, McGraw-Hill 1995, Sherwood 1999 and Action Mentoring : Creating your own Developmental Alliance, Sherwood 1997.
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