Welcome to the third episode in our 2019 Winter Wisdom Series: a collection of the best of the best from our first 128 episodes of The Inner Chief podcast.
In this episode, we’re going to cover the following:
- WHY having a mentor is so important;
- HOW to get a mentor and WHO to approach; and
- WHAT to do once you have one.
We’ve asked more than 50 CEOs about the importance of mentors in their career journey. Every single one of them sees them as a critical element. Let’s find out more.
#1 – WHY having a mentor is so important
Imagine if we never turned to anyone for advice? I chat to my wife when I have big decisions to make or challenges to overcome. I have a beer and talk with mates about life’s journey. I seek advice from my parents. And I consult health professionals, fitness professionals and other experts when I need specific advice and guidance.
Why should it be any different at work?
For career acceleration, you must continue to grow and learn. You have to make decisions. You have to make changes. And all these milestones are better faced when you have guidance and advice.
Zimi Mecka sums it up perfectly in Episode 66. Here’s what he had to say:
“100%. What’s the old saying? A problem shared is a problem solved.”
Having a mentor gives you a balanced view. An experienced perspective. And sometimes a devil’s advocate.
Here’s what Nicky Sparshott from T2 Tea said in Episode 11:
“But, you know, I think the importance of mentors is that you need to have a safe place where you can have those very unfiltered sounding board conversations, where you can shoot the breeze, you can explore scenarios, where you’re not judged for it, or equally where you are because you’ve got a relationship where someone can say, “Actually Nicky, that’s not gonna work,” or, “You need to hold yourself to account to a higher order,” or whatever.
Look, the value of those mentorships have been really, really important to me, where so much so now, that I play a mentorship for many others, because I think you’ve got to pay it forward.”
And in Episode 80, Ronsley Vaz said:
“The entourage is super important. It is so important. The fact that that determines your perspective of the world and the kind of conversations that you’re exposed to, is key. Like having a mentor that helps you see something that you’ve not seen, saves you lots of time, energy, frustration, money. Surrounding yourself with good people is the style of that.”
The value of having a mentor is clear. They help you talk through issues and concerns in a safe environment. That communication gives you clarity. And that clarity helps you make decisions. Decisions you’re confident with and happy with.
#2 – HOW to get a mentor, and WHO to approach
The biggest message here is JUST ASK. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
So don’t be afraid. Chances are, the person you ask will be honoured. They probably had an inspiring mentor in the past and they would love to do the same for you. So ASK.
This is a great question and there are lots of answers. Some people have multiple mentors and there are a few good reasons for this:
- You might look within your current business. A manager, leader or colleague
- You might look outside your business – to someone within the same industry
- Or you might look to someone in an entirely different industry. You’ll be amazed at the insight and advice you can get from their point of view.
- Or perhaps you turn to a trusted friend.
There’s a place for all these different types of people.
Most importantly, choose someone you respect. And someone who will challenge you.
In Episode 121, Megan Macedo said this:
“So I think that it’s really important to lean on mentors because… Actually, most of us probably know what we should do, if we’re being really honest with ourselves, it’s just that it’s really scary to do it. And I think it’s important to lean on mentors. Take a sense of permission if that’s what you feel like you need. Or just have a sanity check and bounce it off them. But it’s really about getting that confidence to do it.
“And I think that the reason Perry is still one of my big mentors, and the reason that I went to him and not some other people that I had followed is because I looked at not just his business and his business experience, I looked at his whole life. And I thought, “That’s a guy I could along with.” The kind of life that he has, that’s the kind of life that I would like to live. He has family, he has kids, he didn’t seem to be a workaholic, he had interests outside of his business… A lot of the other mentors that were around at the time, and people had followed before, were very successful in their work, but they were pretty much workaholics, and their personal life didn’t look the way that I would like my personal life to look.
“So I was looking around for someone where it’s like… I can trust his advice because I know that the results that it bears out in your life, as well as your business, are something that I can live with. So I think that’s really important. To find someone who isn’t just great in one area, but you look at them as a whole human being, and you think, “That’s the kind of person I would like to be around.”
And in Episode 125, Mike Schneider from Bunnings said:
“You’ve got to be accountable, and I think the other thing is that in life you need to have the right support framework around you. I’ve got a range of different people that I would call coaches and mentors. And I’ve been fortunate in my career to work for a number of leaders, from my first store manager in Target, to my predecessor here at Bunnings, who you look up to and admire and respect. The good part is they’re all human, just like me, so there’s good bits and bad bits. And leadership and learning from other leaders is a bit like a smorgasbord. You actually learn what you want to be out of the leader you’re working for, as well you don’t want to be. And I think being independent is important because no one wants you to be version 2.0 of the person who came before you. Including the person who came before you. They want to see you grow and be successful.
“So I’m enormously grateful. My opportunity is to pay the gifts that they’ve given me forward and give other people career opportunities. But you need other support frameworks in your life. So I have a coach that helps me with some running. I have a coach who does a bit of work in the gym. I have a good GP that I go and check up with every six months. I have a psychologist that I go and chat to every now and then, not because of anything other than I want to make sure that the mind and the body are working really well, and I think that in today’s world, talking about issues around mental health and mental wellbeing are actually still a little bit nervy, particularly for people in senior roles.
“But I think the reality is we all have good days and bad days and we all have doubts and self-doubts and having the right support framework around you to be your best, whether it’s running 20 Ks a little bit quicker than the last time you did it, or losing two or three kilos or getting your blood pressure checked, or actually having someone talk about how things are feeling in your mind and soul is really important. And I think that creates a good sense of balance and calm as well.”
#3 – WHAT to do once you have a mentor?
This is where you have to man up. Be prepared. Be organised. Take initiative. It’s not your mentor’s job to do the work, it’s yours.
Come prepared. Be curious. Want to listen and learn. And then most importantly, action their advice. Show them that you’ve listened. Take control. Then measure the results at your next catch up.
The impact of having a mentor
So we’ve covered the basics: why it’s important to have mentors, how to get them and who to ask, and what to do once you have one.
But it’s one thing to say all that, so why don’t we listen to some of our Chiefs to hear what impact a mentor has actually made on them.
In Episode 50, Mitch Matthews told us about his profound learning thanks to his mentor:
“But years ago when I knew that I needed to develop my network. I knew that I needed to meet new people, build relationships, all of those things. And a very sage wise mentor of mine saw that I was kind of torn up. That I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to connect with people, build a powerful network. Lead people, all of those things, and he isolated something. He like poked me and said, “You’re focusing on the wrong things.” I said, “Okay, what’s that?” He knew I was stirred up to walk into a room of strangers or try to lead a team of people and not necessarily want to be in the spotlight, as I do.
“He’s like “You’re focused on being interesting. Don’t be interesting. Be interested.” And it’s probably one of the most profound pieces of advice that I have ever had that has applied to just about everything in my life. Just connecting with someone, don’t focus on being interesting be interested. Ask questions. Be curious. I think one of the most important things is don’t focus on being interesting. Don’t worry about that spotlight. Put that spotlight on someone else. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert you can learn from that wisdom, and be interested, be curious. People will pick up on that. And if that is authentic and real, it will be one of the greatest gifts that you can give them and it will inspire totally, creativity, innovation and you know again that engagement that we need.
“It’s one that I remind myself of every day. Whether I’m walking into a room of strangers, you know for a keynote or I’m leading a team. It’s that whole thing of what am I focusing on today? Am I focusing on trying to be interesting, or am I focusing on being interested? And if I’m focused on being interested and it pays out every time.”
In Episode 107, Rob Patterson talked about some of his early mentors:
“Yeah, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been very lucky. Probably the first mentor, and he’s now one of my major surfing buddies, Paul De Vine at Deloitte. When I started at Deloitte, I pretty soon was working for Paul. He was a manager at Deloitte at the time. What I was so lucky about was that he took me to everything. He took me to all the meetings, he took me to the BD functions with the bankers, warts and all. He probably threw me a little bit in the deep end, but I just got such a good view of how the business was run and what it was and how to go about it. Not everyone is that lucky. Sometimes I work for someone who micromanages, and Paul was the anti micromanager. He would give you a few really broad bullet points and, “Come back to me when you’ve dealt with it.
“Which at times was challenging, but yeah, it was just great to have someone who was really happy and comfortable with me understanding their role. A lot of bosses struggle with that because they’re worried about maybe you’re taking their role. Paul was very generous. He was a brilliant mentor. Then, as I mentioned earlier, Juan Martinez was tremendous as well. Working closely with Juan I learnt a lot about a lot of things that are tough in management. I think that’s what he does particularly well, is that he’s prepared to make hard calls. He’s prepared to not be the nice guy all the time. So, I learnt that that was an important part of leadership. It’s never gratuitous, it’s never vindictive, but it’s just honest. Even down to when you have to let someone go, his position was that you’re doing them a disfavour every minute that you leave them in your organisation because they could be being hugely successful somewhere else.”
And in Episode 113, George Hunt spoke very highly of his mentors including our very first Chief, Kevin Young – CEO of Sydney Water:
“I think there are three that come to mind. The first one I mentioned earlier which was the managing director of the Petrofina business I worked for, John Wolf. He taught me very, very quickly the power of winning hearts and minds and talking to people, the power of people as opposed to being … I guess what I would describe is the difference between a leader creating followers and a manager telling people what to do. I knew at that point, and this was a fair while ago, I knew at that point that I wanted to be the sort of person that could create followers or the sort of person that could follow a great leader. Being on that side of the leadership vs management kind of spectrum became really important to me very quickly. So I would say he was the first one.
“The second one was a project I did with GlaxoSmithKline and I worked for a guy who was utterly ruthless. He was utterly ruthless in terms of wanting to achieve, but what he did do is he taught me very quickly about: If you focus on an outcome and then you try to work out what contribution everybody needs to make to that outcome, you can achieve amazing things. He was a little bit different. Rather than convincing people to achieve something, he was basically “Let’s keep our eye on the outcome and let’s keep true to that goal. And let’s all work together to achieve an outcome.” Which is a little bit more analogous to a sporting team saying “It doesn’t matter how you win a game, whether you win it with flare or you win it ugly, it’s about winning.” And I follow rugby like you do Greg, and an ugly win is still a win. He was another person who I really respected.
“The third one is a simple one for me and it’s somebody I know you hold in massively high regard as well which is Kevin, Kevin Young. He’s a remarkable guy. Everybody who comes into contact with Kevin will just go the extra mile for him without question.”
Networking your way to a mentor
To finish the topic of MENTORS, I want to touch on two other aspects.
If you can’t think of someone to be a mentor for you, consider joining a networking group. There are plenty out there – some specific to industries and others specific to job roles. These are facilitated networking environments creating a safe place for you to share your stories and experiences, learn from others, and to develop your entourage of likeminded people.
In Episode 89, Jonathan Rubinsztein told us about YPO – Young Presidents Organisation and his involvement in that:
“So YPO is a not-for-profit organisation and it’s really around CEOs typically. Working on their personal, their professional and their business side of their lives. I think there are lots of organisations, there’s another one called EO, which is entrepreneurs organisation. There are CEO institutes around the world and there are business manager institutes.
“To me and different people have different ways of learning about themselves, and learning about the world and learning about the industry they’re in and getting insight. For me, YPO has been a great organisation for me to actually have a bunch of people that, and the organisation itself that can help a, provide a forum to think through issues or opportunities that you have and also are like-minded people who are sharing similar issues and opportunities at a similar part of their career.
“I think that having a group, getting a partner, a mentor, a friend, that you can trust that has no agenda if you want and sometimes your partner might have an agenda, it might be your personal partner or business partner might have an agenda but from perspective having that has been extremely valuable to me.”
And lastly, we can’t finish this episode without mentioning our Inner Chief guru, Ram Castillo of Episode 111. He is so passionate about the importance of business mentors that he wrote a book about it. It’s specific to the creative industry, but the messages are universal. Certainly worth a read for anyone who wants to learn more.
So, Mentors. They’re a critical piece of the career puzzle. A must-have. And you don’t have to limit yourself to just one either.
I totally get it. It can be a daunting task to start. Who to ask? How to ask them? What to do next? But I promise you, it’s worth it.
Maybe you’re not sure who to ask. Or how to ask them. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task or just want some more advice, shoot me an email on email@example.com – I’d love to help.