Stephen Schneider - executive mentor

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0830: I arrive in Mayfair. I travel by bus from my home in North London. It is a pleasant ride which takes me around the edge of Regent's Park and allows me some thinking time.

If I don't have a breakfast meeting I may stop at the Berkeley Square Café for a cappuccino and croissant, before heading to my offices just off Berkeley Square. Usually, though, I don't have time for such a leisurely breakfast and arrive at CPS, take-away coffee in hand.

The first task of the day is to go through my emails and phone messages with my secretary. Today my diary is filled with client meetings. Clients come to me individually or collectively, to improve their performance in the boardroom or within senior teams. I am both mentor and coach.

In coach mode I am the one who 'does the work', drawing on my own boardroom experience at a major PLC to orientate my client within the boardroom, discussing his/her boardroom role and, often, transitional issues.

Similar to a sports coach, my job is to identify and rectify any skills/knowledge gaps that my clients may have.

In contrast, my role as mentor is to deepen my clients' insights into their own behaviour and interaction with others, often delving into their past as a means of understanding current behaviours. In this mode, it is very much the client who 'does the work', with me acting as challenger and prompt in their own journey of personal discovery.

0900: I have an appointment with a new client. We meet in a calm, lounge-room environment at CPS. My client is working up to his first boardroom appointment and wants to ensure that he makes a strong first impression and marks his territory well.

As he begins talking about his new role, I recognise some classic traits of the first-time board director about to make a painful transition into boardroom life. Frequently, the very characteristics that make an individual successful in an operational role can derail them when they reach the board.

He is the classic 'successful' manager who has used 'positional' power to get things done, but in his new role as a board director this will no longer be appropriate. Today's is the first of a series of sessions and we require a great degree of commitment from our clients. His contract is for 20, one-and-a-half hour, sessions over a 52-week period. There are no quick-fix solutions in this kind of work and he will need to be dedicated to the journey he is on.

1130: I meet with a CEO who has been working with me for over a year. He approached me to improve his boardroom performance. Today we explore his childhood and I challenge him to address how this has affected his current behaviour.

As we broaden the discussion, he comes to see that during the struggle to the top many 'leaders' manage to hide their lack of leadership skills behind networking and politics. But deep-seated psychological fear of failure is threatening to block my client's growth in his current role. It is a challenging session and I think we both feel we are starting to untangle some of his complex issues.

1300:Lunch. I only have time for a salmon sandwich (on granary, of course!) and use some of this time to prepare for my afternoon and re-read my notes on a new client I assessed yesterday.

I have to decide which member of my team, and I include myself, will be best suited to work with each new client.

Next, I have a brief meeting with my client relations director, Sussanah Chipperfield. We talk through her forthcoming appointment with the group development manager of a large company, discussing ways in which CPS might work with his organisation.

1400: Meeting with a senior team who contacted me a few months ago, when they felt in need of support during a period of &quotstuckness". During today's session I challenge them to recognise the boundaries of their designated roles and on this occasion I suggest all members refer to one another according to role - ie &quotMr Chairman", &quotMr Chief Executive", etc.

It is fascinating to observe how rapidly the dynamics change by using this technique. After the role-play we discuss how people responded and the insights they gained into their own behaviours and that of the group as a whole.

1500:Meeting with Donald Mungall, leader of our next inter-company learning group.

Donald and I talk about a variety of issues which a prospective group member would like to discuss with her peers.

She is excited at the prospect of breaking out of the isolation so many business leaders experience, and is looking forward to being able to discuss leadership matters with people in similar roles.

However, before she commits herself to membership she is anxious to know the names of the group members and the organisations they represent.

The inter-company learning groups provide an opportunity for senior executives from various organisations to explore different ways of working and alternative styles of leadership.

Members are expected to give and receive feed-back on issues that challenge them. This discussion with Donald helps us ensure an appropriate mix of participants for forthcoming groups.

1700: It is time to catch up with CPS's chairman, who is paying us a visit from the US, where he is now based for much of the year. It makes a pleasant change for us to speak face-to-face and not have to juggle the time difference between London and Texas!

Over coffee we discuss issues relating to the company and forecasts for the future.

1900: Time to go home and watch the news - which will no doubt mention one or more of my clients!

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