Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Joining, serving on and leading a board of directors – 12: mentors and mentorship

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on September 27, 2011

This is my twelfth posting in a series on joining and serving on a board of directors (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 179-189) and I turn with this installment to a topic that is too often overlooked but that is crucially important – mentoring. I have, in effect raised this several times so far in this series when I have noted the advisory role that effective board members play in support of the CEO and their executive team. I want to more explicitly discuss this board role here.

Startups and startup boards (see series Part 6) provide perhaps the easiest, clearest example of the importance of board mentoring for the leadership of a business. Startup founders, almost by definition need experienced advice and guidance to help increase the likelihood of success for their new venture. As I have stated a number of times now, startup founders usually to approach their new business venture with a product or service concept but they often lack senior management or leadership experience, and certainly first time startup founders face steep learning curves for organizing and building a business. Mentoring support from more experienced board members who can help navigate a path forward can make all the difference between success and failure. But mentoring can offer value for more than just startup leadership teams.

Effective board members bring in depth and richness of experience and at least in principle can offer a fresh perspective – particularly where a none-of-the-above approach might offer value. A CEO and their executive team members can be too close to a problem and the option to reach out to a trusted advisor who has gone through something similar can be invaluable.

• Effective senior executive teams and effective boards of directors form a partnership, and supportive sharing of insight is a part of the glue that brings them together to make this work.

At this point in this posting I find myself thinking through a few details that at least on the surface would probably seem trite. But I bring them up here with my board taxonomy model in mind as the less functional forms that boards can and do take show that even the presumably trite and obvious can be missed, and on an ongoing and systematic basis.

• Effective board mentoring, like effective board participation in general, has to be built on a foundation of mutual respect. And this is expressed by listening more than speaking, and by valuing the needs of and the potential to contribute from others in the conversation.

I would argue that rubber stamp boards and ruggedly independent boards both break down because they are built on a foundation of lack of respect, and also of lack of trust. For rubber stamp boards, I note here that fear cannot substitute for respect and open, willing participation and rubber stamp boards are at core usually built around fear.

I often finish a posting with a final thought and in this case I do so with a small set of them to round this out.

• Experienced board members on effective boards mentor less experienced board members too.
• Executives in an organization can effectively mentor board members, and particularly where they would need insight into the more unique and individual aspects of an organization’s business model and operations, or concerning its unique value propositions.
• This posting is about creating and sharing value in promoting the strength and viability of the organization as a shared goal. But it is also about appreciating and promoting the value of others in this organization’s overall community.

I am going to turn to the issues of negotiating in my next posting in this series, and simply note here that effective board members are continuously negotiating, and both with fellow board members and with the CEO and members of their executive team.

I have been posting on the general topic area of jobs and careers to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development directory. I have recently started a second, continuation page to that directory at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 and you will be able to find this and subsequent series on jobs and careers there.

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