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NFP Mentor Program Finds CEO Isolation

8 October 2015 at 10:22 am
Xavier Smerdon
An Australian organisation set up to provide Not for Profit CEOs with one-on-one mentoring from successful corporate leaders has found that isolation is one of the significant challenges CEOs are facing.

Xavier Smerdon | 8 October 2015 at 10:22 am


NFP Mentor Program Finds CEO Isolation
8 October 2015 at 10:22 am

An Australian organisation set up to provide Not for Profit CEOs with one-on-one mentoring from successful corporate leaders has found that isolation is one of the significant challenges CEOs are facing.

Eighteen months into the volunteer program the organisation, with a name pointing to its Scottish origins, Kilfinan Australia, said the free service was building trusting relationships between the corporate and Not for Profit sectors.

However, a survey of the CEO mentees found that many of them faced isolation in their jobs.

Co-founder of Kilfinan and philanthropic leader, Marion Webster OAM, said that a sense of isolation has come through more strongly than she or co-founder Rosemary Grieve had anticipated for the mentee CEOs when they set up the program.

“We found that many of them have not, in the past, had trusted people to whom they can refer about the issues and challenges that they’ve got within their organisations, particularly around relationships with boards and their chairs,” Webster said.

“They are not saying they have bad relationships, but for many of them it’s been about just how much can they tell their chair and until they had a mentor, they haven’t had anyone outside their organisation who they can bounce ideas off.”

She said the survey revealed that for a lot of CEOs it was about not having had past experience of managing a chair and a board. This is particularly the case in the smaller organisations.

“Those from the larger organisations have clearly had more experience, but may have had interpersonal relationship issues rather than lack of knowledge and understanding,” she said.

“I think the sense of isolation is pretty real for them and often I think it’s about territoriality – about not wanting to share information that might jeopardise their funding, whereas this is all about what are the issues and challenges they face as a CEO in terms of their leadership development and their skills.”

Webster said the issue of isolation was not something they had given a lot of thought to when Kilfinan Australia was established.

“But when I heard it, and having been a CEO, I knew exactly what they were saying,” she said.

In the UK, where Kilfinan was established, Webster said the mentees do not meet as a group, and Kilfinan Australia accepted and adopted that model.

“But in our survey of mentees we asked the question whether they would like to meet as a group and they overwhelmingly were saying yes,” she said.

In the analysis of the volunteer program, which now runs in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Tasmania and has one remote mentee in the Northern Territory, Webster said success was in the enormous uptake of the program from both the mentor's and the mentees point of view.

“One of the greatest successes is that the mentors who are from the corporate world are learning as much as the mentees, about how effectively the Not for Profit sector operates,” she said.

“That the mentors are starting to talk to each other about ways and resources that they can support each other in their mentoring role, based their experiences in talking to their mentees, is another success.”

As well, Webster said the CEOs have indicated that they are really keen to meet together as a group and discuss common issues including the issue of isolation in their roles.

“So we are really trying to encourage and look at cross sectoral collaboration,” Webster said.

“Under the UK model we are following, we have published the names of the mentors but it was always agreed to keep the mentees names private because a lot of them don’t necessarily want their board or their chairs to know that they were getting personal mentoring, although most do.”

Kilfinan has just completed a recruitment drive for mentors, seeking to increase the 50 plus matches already achieved. Mentors are mainly board members from some of the top 100 ASX companies, and it is now looking for more mentees.

Kilfinan Australia was inspired by the Kilfinan Group in the UK, established in 2003 by Scottish philanthropist and corporate leader Nicholas Ferguson CBE.

The UK Group pairs charity CEOs with mentors from the private sector, the majority of whom are chief executives or chairs. The Group now has more than 120 senior business people working as mentors with Not for Profit CEOs.

The chair of the Australian organisation is Malcolm Broomhead who has extensive experience running global industrial and mining companies. He was Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Orica Limited and of North Limited.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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