Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
26 Oct 2010

Fine tuning leadership skills using peer mentoring

26 Oct 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Give up control to lead others?

Imagine you've spent your early professional training learning rules, techniques and formulae and all your subsequent professional life applying them rigorously. Then imagine someone told you that to lead people effectively, you need to let go of the rulebooks and give control to others.

That very transition – one that turns managers into leaders – is a recurring theme for delegates and mentors involved in the Financial Talent Executive Network (F-TEN), the ICAEW’s highfliers leadership development programme.

What is the F-TEN programme?

F-TEN is a programme of self-directed change. It tasks delegates with defining their own issues and working on them honestly and rigorously with peers and mentors. The idea for F-TEN originated from extensive research undertaken by the ICAEW that highlighted the significant gap that exists between the expectations of finance directors and their chief executives during their first 100 days in a new leadership role. We designed the F-TEN programme with the view to closing this gap and ease the transition from finance specialist to business leader.

Our network is for finance specialists looking to make the transition into a board level leadership role. The F-TEN programme harnesses the conventional tools of management training, such as workshops and networking opportunities with a powerful combination of peer-group learning and mentoring sessions. The classic candidate will be in a financial controller or divisional FD role and looking to make the jump into a company FD role and sit on the board. We’ve had 60 participants to date; the first intake started in Q1 2009 and the second intake started in February this year. We’re currently in the middle of our onboarding for 2011.

Using mentoring to enhance leadership skills

Each F-TEN delegate is paired with a senior non-executive director for confidential one-to-one consultations, and it’s this aspect of the programme that participants say has brought about the most tangible results. Feedback from our delegates so far suggests that they’re already looking at their roles more strategically back in the workplace and that the programme has helped them to muscle-up and fine-tune leadership, delegation and communication skills.

Emmet Bulman, head of management reporting at Barclays Group Finance and one of 22 delegates of the inaugural programme, said: ‘The candidness, the challenge and the quality of the mentoring – this has been the most searching aspect of F-TEN.’

Tom Hinton, financial controller for British Gas at Centrica, says that working one-to-one with his F-TEN mentor has helped him with just this kind of territory: ‘The mentoring is the area that really stretched me. My communication style, the way I manage my team and approach tasks have all changed. You need to empower people rather than drive them. When you push back and raise your expectations, you are enabling them to do more. I’ve changed the way I delegate. Now I say: “Don’t come to me with a draft to work on together, come to me with the final product.” It completely changes the relationship.’

Hinton says he wanted three things from his relationship with his mentor: constructive challenge on current work issues; to build a clear career path for the next five years; and to receive strong guidance on personal development. ‘We left no stone unturned,’ he says. ‘My mentor completely changed my style of engagement.’

Tim Ward, CEO of the Quoted Companies Alliance and an F-TEN mentor, says the mentoring relationship brings a much needed opportunity to discuss work and career issues away from the work environment. ‘People can see it is a very effective way of bringing about change,’ he says. ‘It’s not often that people get two hours to talk about themselves in a work setting. Even an appraisal is not always the time for a very open conversation. So if mentoring is done well, then it is even more of a benefit.’

Sharing through peer-group learning

As the programme has progressed, both delegates and mentors have noticed a change in how participants communicate with one another. The peer-group learning sessions, in particular, have given them the opportunity to explore work issues with each other freely.

According to one delegate, the programme has given them more confidence when it comes to sharing information as well as the realisation that they could learn a great deal from listening and talking to their peers. Another says it has taught them the value of asking open questions.

Tim Ward believes that this transition has been very marked: ‘They've seen the benefits of asking open questions, rather than closed ones. And there's a growing understanding that if they withhold any judgment, they stand a bigger chance of developing a range of options. As an innocent bystander, one can hear that happening. They're just at the stage where they are looking to see how they can move up a level. Often people are coming out of quite a technical discipline and being asked to be more general and to look at the corporate agenda more widely. Their technical ability is now taken for granted.’

Learning to lead through empowering others

Becoming a leader means giving others the leeway and the resources they need to carry out tasks, and letting them take care of the detail. It requires a leap of faith, but creates, says Bulman, a virtuous circle:

'As finance professionals, we're used to control, but you need to get comfortable with giving up control, with letting go and allowing others to do the work. As you show more trust and grant more autonomy, they grow and develop and you and they become more confident. It Results in strong development both for you as leader and for your team.'

With a few months still to run, the current crop of F-TEN delegates will be looking to take the lessons back into the workplace. If they continue to develop their own roles and empower those around them, then the programme will have done its job.

Building talent pipeline with tomorrow's leaders

For many organisations, F-TEN is a means of securing their leadership pipeline in the finance team. F-TEN prepares finance specialists for business leadership, it focuses on developing the skills, knowledge and behaviours that will enable them to function at a strategic level. 

Our programme has already seen several promotions as a consequence of the learning, as an employer that's a huge saving in comparison to recruiting externally at that level. The role of the finance leader has changed dramatically as a result of the recession; it's no longer purely about technical excellence. The future role of the CFO is all about business partnering and driving value across the whole business. The lessons learned through the F-TEN network can be rolled out across other sectors too, to ensure tomorrow's leaders are developed to respond to the constantly changing face of leadership.

Further information about F-TEN

Want to develop your inhouse talent, or wish to be a participant on F-TEN?

To arrange a place on the next programme, find out about the nominations process at www.icaew.com/f-ten or contact Grace Christie on +44 (0)20 7920 8506 or email grace.christie@icaew.com