Ageing Board

Mentoring Story
Neil is a first-time CEO and, though he’s been in the role for several years now, he very much felt like he was learning on the job. He was matched with his mentor a couple of years into his role and has been working with him for nearly two years. They meet monthly, and on an ad hoc basis if Neil needs additional support. 

When Neil was first matched with his mentor, working with the Board was his biggest challenge. The board members were ageing in terms of tenure and energy, including a powerful Chair who had been on the Board for 20 years. There was a tremendous resistance to change, which sometimes appeared to Neil to be defensive and illogical. Before being matched with his mentor, he found this challenge to be significant enough to leave him questioning whether he should cut his losses and move on.

Neil is a strategic thinker who admits that he doesn’t have a natural tendency to focus on things like governance. He was enormously impressed by Kilfinan’s ability to understand this very early on and match him with a mentor who has a wealth of experience in board relationships and governance. In the first year of their match, the Board took up 60-70% of the mentoring discussions.

His mentor was able to help Neil understand what reasonable governance is and isn’t, helped him navigate the unknowns of being a first time CEO, and gave him clarity on how to work with a board and understanding of what’s appropriate in each situation. Through his calm and considered approach, Neil’s mentor helped him avoid getting stuck into negative thinking narratives, which would see him questioning his leadership and decision making. His mentor was able to provide a balanced view, helping Neil understand where he needed to be flexible and where he should hold his ground.

Two years on, Neil’s relationship with his Board has significantly improved. A new Chair was appointed this year, and although the relationship isn’t perfect, they’ve been able to work through challenges together. In fact, while facing a recent significant challenge, he and the Chair found a better solution to the problem than either of them anticipated by working together, and Neil finds this very encouraging. He also recognises that without the support of the board, effectively managing the COVID-19 crisis would not have been possible.

Neil says that the conversations he and his mentor have today are very different from the conversations of 12 months ago. As things have settled down with the Board, his mentor is able to support him with other issues and provide a strategic lens to discussions.

Other Comments
On a more personal note, Neil feels that he has adopted a calmer and more considered way of working since being matched with his mentor. He recognises that maintaining composure is key to effective leadership and credits his mentor with modelling this.

Neil is immensely grateful to his mentor and to Kilfinan for this support and states that the value provided by Kilfinan is “impossible to measure.” He says Kilfinan has made a huge difference for him personally and professionally and recognises that, without Kilfinan, his and his mentor’s paths would have never crossed.

Why do we like this story?
• Neil has a significantly improved working relationship with the Board, which, amongst other benefits, has better positioned him and his organisation to effectively address the COVID-19 crisis.

• Through the work with his mentor, Neil developed an appreciation of the role of governance and how to work with key stakeholders in a way that moves them forward, rather than avoiding them or diminishing their importance.

• Achieving a better result for a significant challenge by working with his Chair provides a template for addressing other potentially destabilising crises that might emerge. Neil understands that this is the essence of building trust and feels encouraged that the relationship will continue to improve.

• Neil shows improved confidence and competence as leader of his organisation and is doing far less learning on the job. The work he’s done with his mentor has built a reservoir of learning experiences that he can draw on in future situations. Neil’s growth is demonstrated by the fact that he and his mentor have moved from addressing a particular set of issues and now are addressing new issues.

• Neil has moved into a space where he can approach things differently than he has in the past. He’s more reflective and can maintain composure, which he learnt from his mentor.

What does this story tell us?
• The fact that Neil and his mentor have moved through a particular set of issues and are now addressing new challenges reveals the breadth and depth of the capability of Kilfinan’s mentors.

• Shows Kilfinan’s ability to identify both the critical issues and “emotional” needs of a mentee outside of what they personally think they need and then match them appropriately with a mentor who can work on these issues with the mentee.
Names and other identifying details have been changed to protect mentor and mentee confidentiality.