Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's better to give...

We are on holidays this week, introducing our son ‘Captain’ Morgan to my family, so this post comes to you from Western Australia, looking over Perth’s pristine beaches across to Rottnest Island.

Sitting in our apartment last night, we spent a couple of indulgent moments watching the sun set over gilt-edged clouds at the far edge of the Indian Ocean, as we quaffed an Australian merlot and generally enjoyed life. The moment prompted a number of thoughts, not the least of which was a memory of a period in my life - a little over ten years ago - when I lived in Perth and my career was well and truly in the wilderness.

At that time, having farewelled a promising military career, medical discharge in hand, my employment options were looking dire. This, despite personal and (with the benefit of hindsight) inflated expectations that as a former army officer, the multinationals would be falling over themselves, begging me to take a plum job complete with six-figure salary, flash car and regular business class travel options. Would you like fries with that?

Reality check! Soldiers beware: Being ten foot tall and bulletproof doesn’t really cut it in the corridors of corporate Valhalla. We have a tendency to be classed as square pegs trying to fit into round holes.

It was time to ask for help.

So, I fired a distress flare, writing to a number of senior officers who I’d had the pleasure of serving during my career, in search of written endorsement for my contribution back in the day. I was very pleased to find, within the space of a couple of weeks, that references were speedily returned from some now well-known, some less well-known officers, all equally deserving of their status as patron and mentor.

One of these leaders, not surprisingly, went beyond the call for a letter and over the next few years gave me a lesson in what it really means to be a mentor. In short, having begun the process with a reference, over the following six years this man continued to step up personally with guidance and the occasional catch up session, including ongoing written and verbal references for me, all of which inevitably steered me from the wilderness and into a brighter and significantly more prosperous future.

For that, I will always be immeasurably grateful.

Ever since, I’ve made an absolute point of trying to ‘pay forward’ that same generosity of spirit. I do this by mentoring those people around me who I see as having great potential, expectation and drive balanced with selflessness and humility.

Obviously, these people come into my orbit as a direct result of the opportunities that have come my way, thanks to a mentor who supported me all those years ago. As a result, I believe mentoring is a core obligation for managers at every level in an organisation, if that organisation is to truly encourage and develop its leadership potential as I referred to in my last post.

The great opportunity with mentoring is that there is huge personal reward in being able to guide and advise someone when they are making important decisions about their future.

The trick is to understand an individual’s motivations. I’m not of the ‘greed is good’ ilk, so my approach to mentoring is very much assigned to the person in front of me. Try to understand what it is that motivates them, what they want to achieve, their personal goals and aspirations, without any expectation that your mentoring of them will benefit you. Because it’s not about that.

I encourage anyone with accountability for others to mentor those you are responsible for, and ask yourself, ‘why am I championing this person?’ If the answer is that you just want to see them do well, then you’ve nailed it.

And if you are a person with responsibility for others and you are not mentoring any of them because you are too busy managing, meeting deadlines or focusing on your own career, perhaps you could rethink the way you are developing your team and, importantly, yourself. Mentoring is an inherent element of your personal responsibility as a leader.

Consider me now stepping off my soapbox, and humbly thanking those of you who have already provided commentary on my initial blog posts. Again, I welcome your comments and thoughts on mentoring.

Have you been mentored well, or perhaps you mentor others?

All the best,


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  1. Your blog started me thinking back through my life, recalling those who provided a spark of insight, a gentle nudge in the right direction or the opportunity to contemplate the pathways available to me.

    I'm in the enviable position of having benefited from several great mentors over the years. The first, and greatest, was my Dad; I know many people would automatically think that fatherhood is all about mentoring and is a category of it's own. I agree, but having become a father myself last year I'm re-learning just how awesome a role model I was lucky enough to have.

    Other exceptional people have mentored me while I was a cadet and during my 20-odd years in Defence and government. All added to my personal, as well as professional, development; none sought reward or any form of quid pro quo. To invest such time and effort in such a way is a truly selfless act. I suspect I never appropriately thanked my mentors, you know - I have some letters to write...

  2. Great article Chris! I must say, I have had the privaledge of being mentored by people in my family over the years. One a fantastic uncle that treated my brother and I like his own, and the other being my father. Both have been able to give guidence in all aspects of life: personal, money, career - and this has given me the ability to create the career, the homelife and the life that I am living now. I am forever grateful and cant wait for the chance to mentor someone myself.

  3. Herr Allen,

    After reading this, I related the content to my own experience and this one line made me think...

    "without any expectation that your mentoring of them will benefit you."

    I'd suggest that there is a real gain, if somewhat intangible, for anyone who engages in mentoring. It comes not as an annual bonus or special mention but in seeing someone who was floundering really hit their straps in a role.

    Knowing you were able to contribute to help that happen is incredibly satisfying. If they were in your team, of course, you will also get the reward of increased output or quality.

    There are incentives everywhere, find them for yourself and others and you'll dilute pure capitalism with a shot of mentoring moonshine.