Accelerating growth by creating a bespoke customer experience is as much about mindsets and behaviours as strategy, so I interviewed Executive Change Mentor Sally Henderson to explore where growth and leadership meet.

become a better leader

What is Executive Change Mentoring? What do leaders get out of it?

Executive Change Mentoring enables senior leaders to think, feel and act differently to achieve the growth and development they want; for themselves, their teams and their business.  

It’s especially effective at fast-tracking positive results through periods of change, either in the leader’s own circumstances or those of the business, and often both!

Too frequently being in the ‘top job’ is a lonely, draining and stressful place. There’s usually no-one in the organisation whose sole objective and agenda is to look after the objectives and agenda of the leader themselves. No bias, no manipulating, no projecting, no coercing; just effective, bespoke advice that improves internal confidence and delivers practical results.

Clients tell me they can think more clearly, have more confidence, feel excited and not fearful about their roles and the future.  Very importantly, they can also let go of out-of-date thinking and unhelpful baggage that they’ve collected along the way.

Instead, they have a personal understanding of what great leadership means to them, new approaches to accelerate their impact and fulfilment in their roles – not to mention better sleep as they’re far less stressed!

What are the most limiting mindsets and behaviours around growth?

There are many but let me share with you the most common:

You have to have all the answers because you have a given job title or salary.

It’s well documented that the most successful and confident leaders – the ones who can inspire a movement – are honest about their failings as well as their strengths. They’re not afraid to show what they don’t know. And they believe in a growth mindset where failure is learning and not to be feared.

You can’t look after your own needs as a senior leader as you’re too busy looking after everyone else’s and that’s how it should be.

What’s the number one rule you hear every time you fly on a plane? ‘Put on your own oxygen mask first’!

It’s simple, when you’re too tired to look after yourself, inevitably you’ll be too tired to look after everyone else.

This also signals to the rest of your leadership team, and your culture, that it’s acceptable behaviour and is what you expect of them too. And so the draining cycle continues.

It’s a luxury to invest in leadership development.

For many years now there have been the same power articles from the likes of Forbes, McKinsey etc about a ‘war for talent’. Well, from where I’m standing, there’s a super simple strategy to win the war for talent. That’s to invest in the talent you’ve already hired and equipping them to lead well.

We understand the importance of investing in our growth as leaders of this business, we just need to win one more client to feel confident we can justify the spend.

There’s never going to be the perfect time to invest in leadership development. There is, however, a limited window of opportunity when that investment is less than if you wait and allow people to reach burn out, to leave or for your culture and commercials to implode because you didn’t equip them to thrive through stress and times of change.

To use a very old cliché, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

At what stage(s) in an agency’s growth cycle does change mentoring add most value?

This is a tough one to answer as every agency – and their leaders and needs – is unique. Here are some examples of how clients have asked to work with me:

  • The agency has undergone massive change, nothing is ‘broken’, but we want to make sure we’re working effectively as a leadership team and as individual members of the Executive Board. Can you help us ensure we aren’t assuming anything about each other (as we all get on and have worked together for a while) and that we have the right focus, connection and tools to help us shape our roles and remits, both as a team and in our own roles to set us up for long term growth and to reap the full benefits available to us and the company?
  • My partners and I have built this business for XX years. I am now CEO but I’m not sure what this means for me and the company. Can you help me find my mojo again, get clear and confident about my role and help me find my own leadership style to lead my business out of choppy waters?
  • I’m looking for investment and to grow both here in the UK and globally. I’ve never seen myself as a natural leader and the investment conversations are sucking up all my time and energy. I don’t have confidence that I’m leading my team in the best way. How do I ensure my business grows up without losing our culture and what makes it fun to work here? How do I ensure I’m doing a job that I love that meets my needs and not just ‘getting stuff done’?
  • We’ve just brought in a very senior new hire and want to support this person to succeed. Can you help them transition smoothly and work with the established Exec team to grow their leadership so we can collectively drive the company forward in the best way, rather than sitting in what’s comfortable but not really going anywhere?

In summary, Change Mentoring will best support your business when you wish to embrace the next stages of growth and off-load bad habits to work better as a leadership team.

And how does change mentoring most impact the bottom line?

There are many ways. Firstly, the difference I see in my clients’ ability to lead with higher levels of clarity, confidence and commitment enables them to reach their leadership and business goals faster and more effectively.

Also, as leadership develops, this has a trickle down effect across the whole culture. Difficult conversations that were once put off are dealt with; roles and remits are clearer so people can be more focused, engaged and supported; energy levels are more balanced, so people feel back in control of their life inside work and therefore outside too.

Benefits are unique to each client, but all support higher levels of performance and retention of critical talent in a way that’s more engaging and impactful.

Bottom line is also supported by equipping my clients to recruit in a more authentic, invested and successful way. In fact, 9/10 creative businesses are not investing in making great recruitment decisions, especially for newly created roles. This often impacts the bottom line by multiple hundreds of thousands. And this doesn’t count the emotional cost and negative impact on wellbeing for all involved when a senior hire goes wrong.

How do you know you’re the right change mentor for any given leader? And how do they know they’ll get the most out of you?

There’s always an element of chemistry. You have to like and respect each other to be able to build the depth of relationship and rapport required to drive significant change, both for the leader(s) as a person and for the business.

You also have to be matched in terms of working style. I am purposefully a Mentor and not a Coach. This means I am directive in my style, transparent with my thinking and opinions and as one happy client shared in a testimonial, “I take no prisoners!”.

My clients aren’t looking for a plaster or to kid themselves that they’re committing to significant change by playing around the edges. They are ready to invest time, energy and budget backed up with discipline and commitment to benefit from the impact of Change Mentoring.

How will they know they will get the best out of me? Read my testimonials! On a serious note, I love what I do and will only work with committed clients where I’m confident my approach will add a significant value.

And if I’m not the right fit, then I always look to support the client in finding alternative people or approaches.

Who stands to benefit most from change mentoring?

It’s about mindset and attitude. I work across the whole spectrum of personalities from extroverts to introverts; people who are lightening-fast thinkers to reflective considerers.

To most benefit from Change Mentoring you need to be ready to work with what I call “the naked truth”; being open-minded to learning new ideas and techniques and wanting to invest in building a committed, trust-based working partnership.

People who won’t benefit from Change Mentoring are those with a fixed mindset. Often that’s a leader who’s been in their role for a long time and doesn’t think there’s anything else to learn.

In these businesses you’re more likely to see a dominant paternal or maternal culture instead of adult-to-adult. There are higher levels of fear and distrust and greater anxiety amongst the team. Due to the behaviour at the top, people feel that it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help, show vulnerability or admit when you don’t know something.

This is simply untrue.  As many thought leaders have proven (Brené Brown, Dr Carol Dweck), it’s by showing your vulnerability, being honest about what you don’t know and being comfortable with getting uncomfortable, where the most powerful and significant growth and leadership development can be achieved.

Sally Henderson is an Executive / Change Mentor helping ambitious CEOs, MDs and Directors achieve more from business, career and life. Find out more on LinkedIn.