Why mentoring makes a difference
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Why mentoring makes a difference

Why mentoring makes a difference

Mentoring could help ensure a smooth transition for new board members and set them up for success in their role

Gulf Business
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When it comes to onboarding new board members, mentoring can play an important role. A mentor can provide guidance, insight, and support, as the new member gets up to speed with his or her role and responsibilities. They can also help the new member navigate the culture, understand the goals and objectives, and connect with other key stakeholders.

When selecting a mentor, it’s important to choose someone who has experience and expertise in the area you’d like the new board member to focus on. The mentor should have good interpersonal skills and be able to communicate effectively.

Overall, mentoring is supposed to help ensure a smooth transition for new board members and set them up for success in their role, typically it fails on the follow through. We advise novice directors to seek a mentor, and encourage the board itself to assign one, but what next? What makes up an effective board mentoring action plan?

Make it an assignment. If mentoring is everyone’s business, it becomes no one’s, so the nominating committee should designate a board veteran to formally serve as ‘concierge’. As part of a proper new member orientation programme, include an outline of items the mentor should cover with the newbie. Vague ideas typically don’t result in any benefit, but checklists do.

Don’t assume that mentoring is a one-way process. A first item for the mentor is to ask what the mentee wants to know, unanswered questions, and what sort of a learning process will be most effective. This can shape another checklist, but this one for both the mentor and the mentee. Also, seek some more general thoughts from the new director on what she or he hopes to gain and learn from this new board experience.

Start as soon as feasible. The mentor shouldn’t wait until the day of the first board meeting to connect. Along with phone calls and messaging, schedule lunch or at least a cup of coffee for face-to-face familiarity.

As a mentor, think back to things you didn’t know before your first board meeting, and what could have made you more comfortable.

Introduce the mentee to others. At the mentee’s first board meeting, work with the chair to host and introduce the new director. Typically the chair offers introductions, but there is no reason why the mentor can’t add some personal input that other directors aren’t familiar with. Don’t hesitate to talk about the skills – give the message that your board is lucky to have this newbie.

Post meeting, schedule a debriefing with the fledgling member. What were the first impressions? What things seemed most unfamiliar, and need further preparation? What observations on board chemistry, meeting flow and operations? This reverse mentoring is valuable – you have someone seeing how your board works with fresh eyes, and who usually has some outside board experience of their own. Share these valuable insights with the board chair and management.

As much as possible, the mentor should also offer the above support, liaison and follow up for committees the new member serves.

Most tactical board work happens at the committee level now, and orienting new members to this crucial role is often overlooked. Work with committee chairs to shape a good orientation plan for each of these, particularly those with complex portfolios, such as audit or compensation.

Here are some best practices for board mentoring:

1. Define the mentoring relationship: Establish clear and specific goals for this such as learning about the enterprise, connections with other board members, or gaining expertise in a specific area.
2. Match the right mentor and mentee: The mentor and mentee should complement each other’s strengths, experience, and goals.
3. Regular communication: Schedule regular check-ins between the mentor and mentee to monitor progress and provide feedback.
4. Provide access to resources: Provide resources such as enterprise financials, charter, key issues, and connections to key stakeholders.
5. Encourage open communication: The mentee should feel comfortable asking questions and receiving constructive feedback, and the mentor should provide clear and actionable advice.
6. Encourage professional development: Encourage the mentee to attend training and professional development opportunities such as conferences and workshops to enhance their skills and knowledge.
7. Celebrate success: Celebrate the mentee’s achievements and progress, both big and small, throughout the mentoring relationship.
8. Evaluate the mentoring relationship: Regularly evaluate the mentoring relationship to ensure it is meeting the goals and expectations of both of them.

Ralph Ward is the global board advisor, coach and publisher and Dr M Muneer is the consultant, author, co-founder of the non-profit Medici Institute.

Read: Why diverse teams drive innovation and success

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