A Journey of Discovery

A Journey of Discovery

During early 2015 the Institute of Directors commenced a 12-month trial entitled ‘Develop a Director’.  The intention was to assist less experienced members of the Institute ‘learn’ from their more experienced and relevant colleagues in a mentee : mentor relationship.  The outcome of this trial was mixed, perhaps one reason being that most of the ‘mentors’ were not professional mentors.  

That, however, was not the case with one relationship.  The mentee, or ‘client’ as we refer to him below, was a senior manager within the Royal Household, and was paired with Dr Michael Smith of ETL, a Fellow of the Institute and a highly experienced and qualified executive coach & mentor. Although the trial concluded many months ago the relationship between the two continues, much to their mutual benefit.  It has been a journey of discovery for both parties.  This case study is a summary of that journey.

The client is currently responsible for four sections within Her Majesty’s Private Secretary’s Office, all of which are fundamental to the smooth running of the Household’s day-to-day operations.  In doing so he is supported by a core of full-time staff operating in several teams who are augmented as necessary by temporary personnel depending upon the projects he and his colleague are required to deliver.  He is widely but discretely connected with many departments of HM’s Government and Commonwealth.

The client decided to participate in the trial because, with over a decade in the same organisation, and having been promoted into a senior management role, he felt it was time to take stock of where he had reached in his career and determine how best he could continue to develop his skills so as to undertake successfully new challenges and opportunities as they arose.

Michael agreed to assist because to do so would provide one of the pro-bono elements of his ‘later years’ portfolio of activities that he was developing.  Others were his seat on Cranfield University’s Court, his membership of the Air League’s Council, and his ‘directorship’ on the governing body of a City of London Livery Company, the Fan Makers, plus associated charitable trusteeships. All of which were satellites to his principle fee-earning activity, ETL, in the sense that they took advantage of his professional and business expertise and qualifications.

The Institute left the client and mentor to decide the structure, content and conduct of their mentoring relationship with the proviso that both maintained a Log, the non-confidential elements of which would be available to the Institute if requested.  

Commencing in July 2015, and involving one session per month thereafter for the next 12 months, the mentoring programme started with Michael providing an explanation of mentoring and coaching, their differences and similarities. Client and mentor then identified what the former wished to gain from the programme and why and, having done so, formulated a plan to achieve those aims.   These proved to be: (1) gaining a clear understanding of his strengths and limitations, and so enabling the design of a personal development programme that would enhance existing skills and correct any shortcomings; (2) the determination and development of any additional skills, and the understanding of any concepts, he would need to make him both further promotable within the Royal Household and more attractive to an outside employer should he wish to leave in the future; (3) clarification of his longer-term career aspirations; (4) the ability to enhance his financial situation.

With the above in mind, together, they then embarked on a self-analysis exercise for the client which led to the achievement, over several sessions, of his aims 1, 2 & 3, plus a realistic assessment of what might be achievable against aim 4 in the short and longer terms.  In doing so the personal development programme was constructed and, as an integral part of the mentorship programme, included was executive leadership coaching with Michael, and the completion of a Finance for Non-Financial Managers course with the City University.  The latter being supplemented by a one-day session with one of Michael’s ETL Board colleagues, Adrian Jones, a global CFO.

The approach the client and mentor took, and the programme they followed, was agreed between the two of them, and was very inter-active.  As one would expect from executive coaching, there was much questioning by Michael, and then careful listening to the client’s answers, plus appropriate summaries and testing as problems and situations were dealt with.  But always within the client’s agenda, albeit that when Michael slipped into a pure mentoring role there was also the transmission of information and advice, the latter explained against a background of relevant experience and results.  This was then translated into the client’s situation so as to ensure the best outcome for him.  

As a direct result of the executive coaching, the client was able, on the one hand, to understand, and so leave behind, potentially damaging ‘baggage’ from his past, and on the other, fully appreciate his core personal values.  Combined these two areas of learning strongly influenced his future thinking, and therefore behaviour, in a most beneficial manner, especially when it came to dealing with a number of leadership and management challenges that he faced, all of which were discussed and successfully resolved in a business-orientated manner.  Furthermore, with an eye to the future, the client was introduced to the concept and practicalities of networking, preparing for and being interviewed, and promoting himself should he decide to leave the Household.  

As many readers will appreciate mentoring, coaching, counselling and teaching, whilst related, are all different, and yet all can, and often do, take advantage of the underpinning philosophies, objectives and techniques of the others. This is particularly the case with a professionally qualified coach undertaking mentoring who, as long as she or he has a sound understanding of the mentee’s professional and business circumstances, can be a very valuable advisor to, and facilitator of, the mentee’s required learning.  With Michael’s combined 40 years of executive leadership and management in both the public and international business sectors up to and including Ministerial and Chairman/CEO level, 25 years’ management consultancy and executive search, plus a Professional Doctorate in Executive Coaching & Team Learning, this proved to be the case.  

As the programme progressed, and inevitably evolved, it drew upon the experiences and knowledge of both client and mentor which resulted in many valuable lessons for both.  In particular, the client wanted Michael to focus on helping him improve his leadership and management styles, both of which were instinctive and, to use his own description, probably too “soft”, albeit very receptive to learning from experience.  

Taking advantage of that latter quality, whilst remaining true to his core beliefs in terms of handling people, the client quickly developed a firmer, but still understanding and approachable, style.  This, when coupled with a developing appreciation of the other party’s point of view, and allied with an increasing awareness of the strategic as well as the tactical picture soon, not only enabled him to solve several long-standing personnel problems, but also propose a most suitable approach to the likely consequences of a future and inevitable fundamental change.

Additionally, and not altogether surprisingly, the coaching resulted in an even deeper level of personal understanding and, therefore, improved performance by the client. Having discovered that he was, in his own words, carrying a great deal of emotional baggage from his earlier years and experiencing ‘imposter syndrome’, he began to realise he possessed far more strengths and abilities than he previously thought.  As he described the realisation: “it was a profound moment of transformation” and one he was then able to build on most successfully.

In summary, the client now believes he has a much clearer understanding of what he has achieved in the past and, more importantly, what is possible in the future, both for himself and on behalf of his employer.  With increasing confidence and ability, his horizons are higher and broader.  In the words of the client’s boss: 

“I consider that your work with your mentor has been very effective.  I have noticed that you are a more reflective manager following this input, able to set your goals more confidently, taking into account the wider context of departmental needs.  This has enabled you to develop an increased and more effective focus on continuous improvement in managing your team, specifically with regard to induction, training and objective setting for new team members.  It has also led you to plan new technological and process improvements with the aim of reducing administration where appropriate, whilst improving quality and speed of activities undertaken.”

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Journey of Discovery

During early 2015 the Institute of Directors commenced a 12-month trial entitled ‘Develop a Director’.  The intention was to assist less experienced members of the Institute ‘learn’ from their more experienced and relevant colleagues in a mentee : mentor relationship.