Teaching Top Dogs New Tricks

David Nish has little doubt that the mentoring he has received from Niall FitzGerald has made a very real difference to his performance—and Standard Life’s. Without testing his ideas against this seasoned leader’s experience, he would have found it harder to assert a bold strategic refocus, to tear down the walls of a stodgy hierarchy, and to put new emphasis on performance management, talent management, cost effectiveness, and investments in growth. Standard Life’s share price is at a record high. Over the course of three years it returned £1.2 billion to shareholders and doubled its market capitalization. The company is now seen as a leader in its industry. Other CEOs in our study, and their organizations, have had similar success.

Not every CEO has had the benefit of such a valuable mentor. But for the good of their organizations, perhaps more of them should. When business leaders fail to decide and act wisely, their companies suffer. With the right mentoring at the top, everyone stands to gain.

A version of this article appeared in the April 2015 issue (pp.100–103) of Harvard Business Review.