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.
Have you been mentored well, or perhaps you mentor others?
All the best,