You can learn a lot on the job, and the knowledge sharing that comes from a mentoring program can’t be replicated elsewhere. We asked seven leaders, executives and company heads to share with us what makes this relationship so special.
Peter Wilson AM (FCPHR), Chairman, AHRI
One thing I hear people often ask is, “How do I find a mentor if my workplace doesn’t have a formal mentoring program?”. It’s as simple as looking at the people around you. Who can you learn from? Approach that person, tell them you admire a number of things they have done and ask if they are free for a coffee. There is so much generosity of spirit from leaders in organisations that nine times out of 10 your request won’t be turned down.
For any mentoring relationship to work, there has to be trust and confidentiality. There also has to be mutual recognition that the mentor has something to teach the mentee, and the mentee needs to be genuine in their interest to learn. A good mentor is an 80/20 listener – they should listen more than they speak, and ask considered questions aimed at guiding the mentee.
When I was first starting out, I wish I had known the value of a mentoring program and what it means for modern leadership development. I have had eight key mentors in my life, and my parents were key influences in different ways. I am always looking for people to learn from because mentoring is a lifelong pursuit.
Jean Martin, Talent Solutions Architect, CEB
Although the majority of growth and development is done on the job, the person-to-person learning that can come from a mentoring program is just as important. When I first started in my career, I wish I had known that you can achieve more through collaboration than you can alone. There were so many opportunities I missed where I could have used others’ experiences and knowledge to get the very best from myself or the entire team.
Mentors have been essential to my career progression and have provided a holistic approach to my work-life balance. I have learned the most from leaders who have helped me understand where my strengths are and how to apply them to current business challenges. And just as important, they have helped me understand how to balance my energy so that I don’t burn out.
As a mentor, one of the most important pieces of advice that I give mentees is always design your career around your natural passions. You need to ask yourself: If all these choices appeared as ‘Help Wanted’ advertisements in the newspaper, which one would I naturally gravitate towards?
Tracey McCosker, CEO, NSW Health Pathology
The best mentoring programs rely on both parties taking it seriously, wanting to make that connection and coming prepared. The mentee should come with considered questions, be prepared to listen, and ready to learn and actively engage with their mentor – you have to be in the conversation to get the most out of it.
With that in mind, mentors need to focus on the needs of the mentee and not just find every opportunity to talk about themselves. A mentee might come into the relationship thinking that the mentor is all-knowing, but understanding that your mentor has been there and struggled helps them to open up. It’s useful for a mentor to say, ‘I’ve been where you’ve been, so let’s talk about it’.
Often a mentee might already know the answers but needs someone to talk it through, test the answers and then tweak them. It helps to talk with someone who has your best interest at heart, and it helps build confidence. It’s a real chance for you to learn from each other if you go in with the right attitude and aim to make the most of it.
Sally Loane, CEO, Financial Services Council of Australia
In the past, I evaluated the leadership styles of people I worked with and admired. My time in media meant I was around mentors who made courageous decisions in the face of powerful influences. When I worked in a more corporate setting, I learned about business from people who had great ideas and weren’t afraid to put them into action. Now, I talk with and learn from my peers: how they balance the real work of running a company, but also [deal with] a large amount of regulation and scrutiny, which is very challenging.
If anyone is offered the chance to participate in a mentoring program, grab it with both hands because you will learn so much. If you don’t get that chance in an official capacity, look at someone you admire and watch how they work. Take the opportunity, and if it’s not offered, ask for it.
Jessica May, CEO, Enabled Employment
In my experience, you have to go through both good and bad managers to know what you want. Both types have helped me understand that it’s all about what you invest in your staff.
A great manager taught me that you should hang on to different ways of thinking. Another senior manager led by example, bringing her daughter to work, or working remotely if she needed to. She demonstrated that’s how everyone should work, and I’ve implemented that here.
On difficult days, to have someone there who understands what you are going through is great. You need people like that in your life for when it gets hard.
Ed Cooley, Executive General Manager – Talent & Planning, People Experience, Suncorp
It sounds counterintuitive, but a good mentor has to be a bit vulnerable. They have to be comfortable sharing experiences that might not have been positive, because openness builds trust and confidence in you as a mentor. Especially since some of the challenges you have faced might be experienced by your mentee.
We use an external mentoring program partner to select each mentor-mentee pair, and a lot of thought goes into that selection. Sometimes the matches look odd at first. For example, I was partnered with a young guy in IT and we had no idea who each other was. We both went in with apprehension, but it ended up being brilliant.
As a mentor or mentee, look for those unexpected pairings. Some of my best experiences have been with people I don’t normally encounter. It’s a challenge at first to see what you can give them, but it’s rewarding as well.
Paul Wappett, CEO, Open Universities Australia
My most productive mentoring relationships have a couple of things at their heart. First, trust each other, because if you’re going to provide constructive feedback, you need to know they are willing to be vulnerable. Secondly, you have to work on real issues and not just on the tasks associated with them – focus on the human dynamics involved.
On the part of the mentee, there has to be a commitment to try different things and stretch yourself. There is no point in a person just validating what you do.
Competence isn’t enough. When you’re young and idealistic you have this notion that all I need is to do a good job and people will notice. I learned it’s important to manage your personal brand. You need to know the importance of your reputation with colleagues and have an active role in that. I learned that gradually by watching other people in different environments.
Are you an experienced HR practitioner who wants to support up-and-comers? Or someone just starting in their HR career and looking for advice and guidance? Enrol in AHRI’s mentoring program. To learn more and apply, click here.