A Top Mentor’s Guide to Leadership Success

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As a Mentor to CEO’s and C suite executives for 10 years through BoardMentoring.com and a CEO and Chairman, it’s clear to see there are certain characteristics that mark out successful leaders. Below Gillian Wilmot shares her tips on achieving success whilst being authentic and true to yourself, illustrated through interviews and stories from CEOs and leaders.

  1. Courage and Authenticity

Courage is essential in leadership aligned with a strong set of personal values. We tend not to talk about values and beliefs in business, but they are important as they drive the way we prioritise and make decisions.

What we call authenticity and sense in others is the way we live our values and people respond positively to authentic leaders who are comfortable in their own skins. To combine strong core values tempered with humanity and empathy enables the CEO to set clear priorities and to successfully navigate their companies and their own careers.

  1. Personal Brand

The outcome of understanding your values and leading with courage and authenticity is your own personal brand. This is critical in the three essential elements of:-

  • Delivering today and in the short-term
  • Preparing for the next level up and next challenges
  • Planning out your future career

These are the three areas to be focused on in a mentoring relationship. To check against this framework, 360 degree feedback is invaluable and my preferred method is to do this through structured conversations rather than written responses. Conversations bring out the essence of the feedback and enable the nuances to be explored and the common threads to be identified and contextualised.

  1. Culture, power & reward structures

The culture of a business is at the root of success or failure and it is the role of the CEO to establish a positive and dynamic culture. Failing businesses never have a positive culture and a business with a negative culture will fail. A business with a positive culture will attract talent, and find solutions, re-inventing itself as necessary to ensure success.

This core business culture is reinforced by the reward structures in place, both financial and non-financial, The CEO must align these to retain talent and maintain success. Financial institutions would make better investment decisions and ensure better governance if they had the focus and skills to understand the role of culture in driving behaviour, both positive and negative. Looking at numbers alone is like driving using only the rear view mirror. Understanding the culture of a business which attracts and retains talent will give you a more accurate view of the future potential.

Recognition and non-financial rewards are key tools for the CEO to use in driving positive behaviour and culture. Ensuring that promotions is based on merit and 360 feedback and positive input from peers and direct reports as well as a coaching/mentoring culture and approach is key to embedding a positive culture.

  1. Charisma, Charm and Confidence

These are important characteristics in a leader and each individual will have their own way of conveying these.

The word Gravitas is often used but I find it a “loaded” word for many, especially for women and younger leaders, so I prefer to say “Leadership Charisma” as this is the quality that most often marks out successful leaders.

The old model of the “larger than life” extrovert as CEO is not relevant now. There are many effective styles.

Many of us are introverts. Some are more reflective leaders. Quiet self-confidence is a very effective leadership style . It comes from really understanding your market, your business and your colleagues.

Whatever your natural style, having your ear to the ground of the business and listening and observing carefully are essential for all leaders.

It’s vital to learn the most effective way to communicate for you personally and practice this. Making sure your message has landed and understanding that it must be repeated in many forms, visually, verbally, numerically and be consistent and visible in action.

  1. Resilience and Perseverance

These qualities are essential and at the very core of being a successful leader. Resilience is essential to navigating the complex and demanding environment businesses now face.

Authenticity is key to this as you cannot be resilient if you are ”acting the part” of CEO rather than being yourself at your best.

We all experience doubt and uncertainty and it makes us human and helps us empathise with others.

However it’s important to maintain both your mental and physical fitness in order to have the necessary reserves of resilience and perseverance to be an effective leader.

This is especially important for female leaders and those who do not fit the traditional “Gravitas template” as they have to meet the unconscious bias of higher expectations.

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