The Executive Mentor – an Interview conducted in 2011

“In the space of a fortnight, six different people told Paul Smith they were having a horrible time in their executive jobs. One told him that he wanted to resign forthwith. Another confessed to just having endured the worst month of his business life. A prominent Family Business owner said: “I just want to give up and sell up – it’s all too hard.”

These were not Paul’s employees, bosses or friends. They included corporate or government leaders, business owners and executives who engage him as a business mentor (and coach) and who felt free in a one-to-one setting, to confess how they were really feeling about their jobs. Big pay packets and titles are no buffer to human needs and emotions.

It’s a cliché, but life at the top really can be lonely or isolating, says Paul, because few employees can imagine that their “superiors” might sometimes feel vulnerable and bewildered. He’s been there too!

Few employees realise that they might lock their bosses into a projection in which they become a figment of someone else’s imagination, he says. “Leaders can be ascribed all sorts of motives and circumstances that they just don’t want to have.”

As an executive goalkeeper™ and Chief Executive of the Carnegie Management Group, the Sydney-born Smith, is hired by leaders to be the “deep, tough friend”, with whom they can develop enough trust and rapport to allow them to navigate the issues of leadership – both personally and professionally – hired by both the organisation and the individual alike.

“They benefit by getting stuff off their chest. I often find myself caring for people that others don’t care for. If we can talk about an issue and then isolate the source, we can then work with it”, Paul says.

He also leads workshops on the question of how to bring more meaning, more heart, into a working life. He individually mentors employees who have suddenly been elevated into tough new roles – or help them to get there.

“Not everyone is immediately perfect for a new job, so I help them to get the job under their belt.”

He is well qualified for this role, as he has experienced these dynamics first hand over the earlier part of his career. Graduating from Sydney University as a Bachelor of Economics he rose through the ranks of the Oil Industry with a heavy bias towards Marketing, Corporate Planning and profit centre accountabilities involving “big numbers” he proudly says. These General Management roles were followed by senior executive roles in the Logistics Industry.

Paul therefore understands workplace pressure and the need to perform – particularly in a multi-functional role that requires the leadership of managers.

However then his transition occurred, shifting his passion to work with the “real people”, he says. Hence his drive to assist executives as their third party support base, their work colleague “removed”.

“Sometimes I used to recruit them, so my background, by definition, also involved career transition.” he says. “But then my focus shifted and I became more interested in what was happening to individuals, rather than what was happening to organisations in the first instance. Hence clients also include business owners in their own right. They are no different!”

As an Executive Goalkeeper™ Paul consults with men and women from all walks of life, in those existing leadership roles – including those aspiring to leadership – “by bringing another way of looking at things that should matter.” 

The ability to seamlessly transfer from mentor to coach is the cornerstone for him, and for them.

Some of the relationships, conducted in regular two-hour meetings that encourage reflection and feedback, have lasted for years. “Human change doesn’t happen overnight.” This includes empathy, passion for the job, future vision, life balance and vulnerabilities.

The soft stuff is that which allows connection to the client and to the colleagues. It allows connection on the basis of feedback. A simple example: asking a client how they feel.

It allows people to reveal their vulnerability to him and, in some cases, to employees. “It’s a risky phrase nowadays,” he says, “but to get to empathy with employees and clients, a person has to do an awful lot of hard, intimate work on themselves, particularly the leader.

“It sounds benign, but it is necessary for leaders to do the soul searching that brings them back to the specifics and that leads to new insights.”

This then culminates in goal setting, milestones and ongoing review – particularly important in an ever-changing world. However as far as possible, stick to the game plan he says.

“They do have to be willing to fumble and to get to the fuzzy edges where they discover something and create new models and potentials. Also they need to be able to embrace new behaviours perhaps. Followers pick up on the authenticity of the leader.”

Coming from such long experience within corporate Australia, Paul now sees here a rather adolescent working culture that is under-confident and that still emphasises skill-based competency above all else.

“Most people tell me their organisation is only interested in their competencies, when what they really want to feel is some more purpose in their work.”

“Some of the briefs I’ve had from organisations have requested me to help people to bring more of their heart to work. They want to know how to breathe life into their work.”

This can happen if an organisation permits and nurtures whole human beings at work. “When that occurs, and an individual starts to seek more meaning, they become more creative, passionate, engaged and empathetic. They are happier and more fulfilled,” he says.

This is an adult working culture where there is a balance between work and culture and where “love” does play a part. The baby boomers (executives) are moving into adulthood (parenthood) at work and they are beginning to deal with issues of “generativity” and care.

“Generativity” means rather than producing everything oneself, the aim is to help others to be more productive. However there must be, also, a positive commercial outcome at the end of the day.

“It is a broader sense of membership and yet a lot of organisations here are still based on competency and tribalism. Also hand in hand with this, we as a business community do not seem to encourage a learning culture for the next generation of leaders.” he says.

“Therefore it’s all about strategy development and execution – for both the individual and the organisation.”

“Executive Goalkeepers™ don’t kick the goals – they guide people on how to kick.”

Paul says that when organisations allow individual workers to become fully engaged, words like productivity become almost laughable. “People will transcend their job descriptions and kick the ball right out of the park!”

The emphasis he maintains for all people – Executives, Business Owners and Family Business – is to become fully focused and know precisely where you are heading at any point in time. “The development of this clarity does not happen overnight” Paul states. It requires careful and considered personal introspection via a process to determine what it is you really want to do, develop the strategies and plans – then implement, he adds.

“At CMG this is just so important for us when teaming with our clients – we believe that our work with our clients is a journey. Accordingly our logo – our brand – reflects this journey. It succinctly depicts what we do.”

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