Mentoring the next gen is the only succession plan

Why the best mentors are those who say the least

I’ve never had anyone I’d classify as a mentor per se.

The reason for this is my own fault because I never sought one. Early in my career I was guilty of being one of those headstrong individuals who thought he had the best answers.

Consequently, my mentors have been life and career lessons derived from experiences, which have involved as many highlights as there have been missteps.

While these have been invaluable teachers, on reflection there were many moments where I certainly would’ve benefited from an objective perspective provided by an independent and seasoned adviser.

Looking for a mentor? These tips may help. 

I suspect this would’ve helped me to reach my career objectives much sooner than I did, as well as steered me away from certain fires instead of diving right into them.

So it was with some irony that the freewheeling young professional who underestimated the value of mentors went on to become a teacher for some 20 years. Looking back, I think it was the absence of a mentor in my life that enhanced my desire to fill that role for others.

Guiding young lives as a teacher was such an eye-opener for me. I experienced firsthand the positive impact a mentor can have which I’ve never forgotten.

So much so that many years later, my teaching ethos remains a fundamental of my leadership approach, as it encourages the best out of not only the people I work with, but those who approach me for career advice via CPA Australia’s mentoring community, thenakedceo.com.

It’s during my interactions on the site, as well as my various one-on-one meetings with people of all ages, that the universal hunger for guidance is continuously reinforced to me.

And it’s on the shoulders of today’s leaders to fulfil it. 

Doing so is not only in the best interests of the individual, but society as a whole. I’m a firm believer that mentoring the next generation is the world’s most important succession plan. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to help guide and ready them.

This is where many leaders slip – for whatever reason, they don’t commit the requisite time and energy to help guide people.

Sure, within the context of their professional role and organisation they probably do, but what I’m referring to is going the extra mile to help those who aren’t contributing to their bottom line.

Mentoring isn’t managing, this needs to be remembered. There are distinct differences between the two.

Unlike a boss or manager, the mentor’s true value lies in their independent point of view. Their perspectives and guidance shouldn’t be influenced by any underlying business agendas - this defeats the purpose of the dialogue.

Being an impartial resource there to listen and provide objective guidance encourages the mentee to open up on a much deeper level than they might with their manager. This is essential for the conversation to derive any real benefit.

The importance of finding a good mentor. 

Arriving at this place of full trust may take some time (depends on whether there was an existing relationship prior to it becoming a mentorship), but this is all part of the journey.

And in the task driven, deadline rich environment that is the workplace, a manager will provide specific directions to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible. But mentoring isn’t about providing specific instructions.

The best mentors are those who say the least, but provide a sense of conscience that the individual may, or may not, be taking the correct path. It’s about provoking the individual into thinking about what they should be considering when faced with an issue or circumstance.

This comes through asking questions that will help the mentee discover their own best way forward.

It’s also important to note that there can be a risk of a mentee becoming over-reliant. Some will build a suite of people they deem mentors, frequently turning to them for advice instead of thinking through the problem for themselves.

Naturally a mentor should be accessible, but it shouldn’t be an “open all hours” arrangement. Specific times in the diary should be committed from the outset of the relationship. 

Early in my career, all those years ago, I thought career progression was about pushing, shoving and speaking up whenever the opportunity arose. If I had my time again, I would find a mentor that observes, reflects and highlights grey rather than just the black and white.

This article first appeared on the GQ Australia and was republished with their approval.

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