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Visionary Thinking

ERNEST SHACKLETON AND THE MISSING MENTOR

There’s more of an understanding, now, amongst a younger, new generation of CEOs, especially in start-ups, that you can't be ruthlessly solo anymore. That you’ve got to work together on the big problems.

All Together’s co-founders talk Polar exploration, executive mentoring, and the loneliness of the long-distance CEO

On 21 November 1915, when Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, was finally abandoned by its crew, the polar explorer assembled his men on the ice and told them: “If we are to survive, we must help each other.”

Shackleton, known to his men simply as “the Boss,” must also have understood that, as the expedition’s leader, he, alone amongst them, had no one to turn to.

When I sat down recently to interview Gussy Hydleman and Jamie Mitchell – the two founders of CEO mentoring not-for-profit All Together – Hydleman brought up the famous explorer’s name in connection to a podcast she’s currently listening to. As All Together offers pro-bono mentoring for the CEOs of small to medium-sized companies, her fascination with the Anglo-Irish adventurer makes sense. More than most, Shackleton fully understood the loneliness of leadership.

As Mitchell, the former MD of Innocent Drinks, and a serial entrepreneur, says ‘If you're a small business leader, you don't have access to the professional services of a bigger business with more cash. And, you don’t have an experienced board of directors to call upon. Or the deep network that comes with a longer career. One of the things All Together does is give you the opportunity to just pick up the phone to someone who’s already walked your walk – ask them: What do I do in this or that situation?’

All Together already have a storied pool of around 100 mentors to call upon. Amongst them Adam Balon, previously Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Innocent Drinks, Bill Ronald, Chairman of FeverTree, and Meg Lustman, previously CEO at Hobbs.

And the not-for-profit’s timing is perfect.

Hydleman, whose business background is in start-ups, argues passionately that there has been ‘a shift in people's mentalities’ in recent years. ‘I think, post-pandemic, business in general is moving in our direction. There’s more of an understanding, now, amongst a younger, new generation of CEOs, especially in start-ups, that you can't be ruthlessly solo anymore. That you’ve got to work together on the big problems.’ Mitchell, who is currently the chairman of Rare – the operator of Gaucho and M restaurants – nods. He sees the ability to ask for help as a vital component of today’s high-EQ entrepreneur. He also has strong views as to what the other key attributes of a modern CEO are.

‘To be a 21st century CEO, I think the things that matter most are having clarity over your organisation's purpose, and an unobstructed vision. A painting of what success looks like; and knowing where you're heading. Otherwise, you just tend to be busy folks; doing too many things that aren't the core. If you know exactly what success looks like, then, every day, you're able to focus in on that.’

Hydleman agrees, ‘Many of our CEOs come to us and give us a bit of background. We'll connect them with an advisor and the advisor will say to us afterwards, they are just over complicating it. They need to go back to the basics of what their business does and really deliver on those. As Jamie says – the core.’

After two years, Shackleton brought his men home. The help each man gave the others was key to their survival. But you can be certain of one thing – out on the Polar ice cap, there were times when their leader wished he had someone to call.

Extract from Human Capital – Drayton’s business magazine

More information on CEO mentoring at https://www.alltogether.company

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