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5 takeaways on how mentorship matters: a dialogue with two CEOs

What are the keys to good leadership and mentorship?

Brenda Brinson, General Manager of Culture & People Strategy and Chief Diversity Officer at Phillips 66, asked that question to Mark Lashier and Bruce Chinn, the respective leaders of Phillips 66 and Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, in a moderated discussion at Phillips 66 headquarters Tuesday. CPChem is jointly owned by Phillips 66 and Chevron.

Here are five takeaways:

Find ways to add value. Neither Lashier nor Chinn actively set out to be a chief executive. Rather, they looked for ways they could contribute in various roles, including helping others in their careers as mentors. “I never really aspired to be CEO, “said Phillips 66 President and CEO Lashier. “I aspired to create value for the company, to do things they wanted me to do, to help people make great careers for themselves.”

Be a good listener. Listening skills helped both CEOs become better versions of themselves and ultimately climb the corporate ladder. “Feedback is a gift,” said CPChem President and CEO Chinn, for whom a mentor stressed listening. “But you have to be willing to listen.” Said Lashier, “Listening made me a better CEO. It made me a better husband. It made me a better father.”

Build relationships. Leadership and mentorship hinge on relationships. For Chinn, relationships allowed him to overcome workplace bias. “That’s why I believe in it,” said Chinn. “Not only with your immediate boss, but also your peers, your subordinates and folks in other functions. That’s how people see the real you.” Lashier recalled a manager in Sweeny, Texas, who as a mentor helped him win credibility with plant workers.

Don’t force it. Mentorship, like leadership, cannot be willed. “There’s some sort of organic chemistry that takes place,” said Lashier. But that doesn’t mean you should just wait for it to happen, said Chinn. “I would tell folks, especially young folks, to never be afraid of engaging,” he said. “You never know where your mentor might be.”

Look for lessons. Lashier said a mentor once helped him better understand how organizational decisions are made. “Sometimes decision makers have access to information or experiences you don’t have,” he said. Lashier also learned to see decisions as an opportunity to gain insight on the decision-making process. “It’s an opportunity to understand the why,” he said.