Mentoring for executives and managers

The right guidance can lead experienced professionals to sharper skills and the organization to deeper leadership.
By Cheryl Meyer

 Marc Heffler, CPA, (left) works with his mentor, Bob Rivero, CPA, to develop his time management and delegation skills.
Marc Heffler, CPA, (left) works with his mentor, Bob Rivero, CPA, to develop his time management and delegation skills. (Photo by Matt Harbicht/AP Images)

Mentors have long aided in the development and progression of younger employees, those who have yet to develop the skills necessary to move up the ranks.

But the need for mentoring doesn't suddenly stop when an entry-level professional gets one promotion—or even two. Senior-level leaders need to continue to work on issues such as time management, delegation, and administration—and even client issues. They may also need help developing skills to help them succeed with strategy, negotiation, innovation, and communication.

Mentoring can help these leaders, too, as they strive to improve their own management skills as well as the production and experiences of the people they lead.

Top management of Prager Metis CPAs LLC recognized this when they sought a mentor for Marc Heffler, CPA, a senior manager in the audit and accounting department of the international firm with headquarters in New York City. Heffler is a 12-year veteran at the firm's office in El Segundo, Calif., and a possible candidate for partner.

He was paired with Bob Rivero, CPA, a former senior managing partner at KPMG who helps corporate executives, partners, and future principals hone their management skills. Rivero has worked with Prager Metis for many years in an advisory capacity and as a mentor for potential leaders in the firm.

Last October, Rivero and Heffler began a program that includes several meetings each month to help Heffler bolster his leadership abilities in numerous areas. The program calls for a mentee to take on assignments, such as working with subordinates, making presentations, and aligning with partners who may favor his promotion. Most projects involve interacting with others.

Through the training, Heffler has worked on his time management and his ability to assess and delegate work to others. This has freed him to pursue the partnership path.

Rivero began his career at the New York City office of KPMG, and while there he led nine business units in the United States and abroad. After 34 years with the firm, he retired early and in 2003 founded RAR Management Services LLC, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based firm that provides advisory and mentoring services to executives and prospective business leaders.

He believes leaders benefit from mentoring as much as entry-level professionals do—and that the results of executive coaching can trickle down through an organization.

"Good leaders make organizations successful, and bad leaders ruin good people—and I've seen it too many times," he said. "It's like golf: Have you ever seen Tiger Woods at any tournament without his coach?"

Ted Fernandez, CPA (inactive), spent 18 years at KPMG before becoming a co-founder of The Hackett Group, a strategic consultancy and benchmarking firm for global companies. Rivero was his supervisor and mentor at KPMG. He helped Fernandez understand the importance of being diligent about fact-checking before making decisions, and helped him learn how to delegate and handle time-management issues, which plague many executives.

"Part of being an executive is knowing how to help those around you continue to get better," Fernandez said.

Rivero, who is adamant about meeting in person those he advises, said mentors for upper-level managers are needed today more than ever because organizations face shortages of professional employees between the ages of 30 and 50. This means that younger professionals must "accelerate their leadership maturity eight to 10 years faster than the Baby Boomers did," he said. "Millennials are leaving jobs within two years because they don't get an opportunity to improve their leadership skills." He looks at mentoring not as a form of corrective action, but one that helps people reach their ultimate capacity.

Rivero, Heffler, and Fernandez offered the following tips for mentors of higher-level CPAs and for senior managers who are contemplating taking on a mentor to improve their leadership skills:

  • Determine areas of improvement. Before the mentor-mentee relationship evolves, both parties should figure out where help is needed and which areas of management need focus. "As you continue to move through the ranks and you gain greater responsibility, you tend to forget some of the things that are critical to your ascension," Fernandez said.
  • Develop a specific plan. Mentoring is not a "one-size-fits-all" exercise, Rivero said. Instead, formulate a specific program tailored to the mentee and a timeline for completion. "If you work on a new skill under the guidance of a coach, the longer you work on the skill with the coach, the better chance there is for the skill to become instinctive," he said. "The length of my programs varies by individual depending on the skills or awareness that we are trying to develop. These programs usually run between four and nine months."
  • Have regular face-to-face meetings. Mentors and mentees should meet at least twice monthly and ensure that there are no interruptions, so the location of the meetings should be considered carefully, Rivero said. Also, mentors should write monthly progress reports and send them to the mentee's immediate supervisor, if applicable. For mentoring to be effective, the supervisor needs to know what specific skills the mentee is making progress on, because the supervisor is integral to the mentee's development.
  • Be committed and receptive. As a mentee, you "must be totally committed to the program and willing to discard old habits and perceptions," Rivero said. In addition, Fernandez said, be "incredibly open to the areas where you believe you have the greatest room for improvement ... and how to really play to your strengths whenever appropriate."
  • Provide and handle assignments. Mentors should give assignments, and mentees should willingly agree to do them between meetings. These tasks give the mentee an opportunity to apply the skill or idea that is being discussed. "As often as possible, this should include interaction with others," Rivero said.
  • Develop a post-program reporting schedule. This reporting can help the mentee and his or her immediate supervisor monitor the mentee's continuing progress in bolstering management and leadership skills, Rivero said. Similarly, the mentee should establish individual monitoring methods to ensure continued execution of certain skills modifications. Rivero suggests that for six months after the end of the mentoring program, the mentee should forward a summary report to his or her superior (either monthly or bimonthly) describing the activities currently being performed that demonstrate the continuing execution of skills learned in the mentoring program.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Once advice and direction are given, mentees must apply what they've learned when back in the office, no matter how busy they are—and give the mentoring program top priority. "To me this is important," Heffler said. "If I have to come in on a weekend and work extra, or come in early, I'll do it. The key here is you can't make it to a higher level, whether partner, CEO, or CFO, unless you focus on that as a goal."

About the author

Cheryl Meyer (meyerwrites@gmail.com) is a California-based freelance writer.

To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-2112.


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