Why you need a mentor and how to get one

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By Abby Jandro

April 2, 2019

I have a three-year-old son. He is always asking me for a boost. He wants to climb higher in the tree, sit on the counter to help me cook, or stand on the most precarious obstacle at the playground. He has no qualms about asking, and if I am not the closest adult he will turn to anyone who can help him achieve his goal.

My son is certainly not alone in his enthusiasm among his peers, yet at some point we lose much of that openness to seeking assistance. We begin to work hard, focusing on performing well. We keep our heads down and our phones on. And for many of us, there is a belief that our work will stand for itself and recognition will come. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t.

Numerous studies have shown that having a mentor is a key advantage in progressing your career, particularly into senior leadership levels. You would have to work hard to dispute this fact.

In four years of running the Property Council’s Women in Leadership Mentoring Program I have watched 70 mentoring relationships form and flourish. I have seen mentees take extraordinary steps in their careers and lives, and watched mentors grow immensely in their own leadership capability.

At Serendis, we recently began studying the outcomes of our mentoring programs. Directly from our mentees, here are the top themes illustrating what a mentor does for you:

  1. Provides focus and accountability. A mentor is someone focused on you, your goals and aspirations and who is willing to offer their support. Reflection is one of the most underrated leadership skills there is. We often do not take the time to sit back and reflect on our careers, let alone have someone reflect back and hold us to account for taking action.
  2. Shares lessons learned. There are two components to this one. First, mentors share what worked for them in their career and what didn’t. As a mentee you can learn vicariously from their successes and failures. Second, a mentor validates experience. Realising you are not the only or first one to face a particular challenge is incredibly powerful. It can shift your focus from the experience of a difficult situation or challenge to what to do about it.
  3. Gives feedback. A mentor can provide honest feedback that is personal, private and with no intention but to see you succeed. I always tell my executive coaching clients not to receive feedback, but to actively seek it. A mentor is the perfect source to practice building this skill, and you may just learn something transformative for you and your career.
  4. Encourages a broader perspective. I had a boss that often talked about different positions within a business having different views from the mountain. A mentor will be sitting at a different place on your mountain, or they may be on a completely different mountain all together. Even better. The more you can learn from diverse perspectives, the better and more strategic leader you will become.

By now you may be sure that having a mentor is a great, but left asking how you go about finding one.

Participation in a formal program internally or one facilitated by an industry body like the Property Council are great places to start. However, that may not be an option, and everyone would benefit from more than one mentor anyway, so here are three simple steps to get you going:

  1. Start with you. Get clear about what you want to achieve through mentoring. This will not only shape who you approach, but also what you talk about with someone.
  2. Look in and beyond your network. Perhaps there is someone in your company you admire or a speaker at an event that you related to. Don’t discount someone just because they’re not in your industry or organisation, or because they seem very different from you in some way. This could be an immense benefit.
  3. Ask. This is probably where most people fall down. Even in a structured mentoring program I hear people worry about wasting someone’s time. People are more generous than you think. Immensely generous in my experience.

Start by asking to meet for coffee. Prepare beforehand what you would like to share with and learn from this person. Maybe it will be just one mentoring session that day, or maybe you will see the opportunity to build the relationship. If you see that opportunity, take it.

We all need people in our network who help us develop and support us throughout our career. Wherever you are on your journey, now is a good time to look around and ask for that boost.

Dr Abby Jandro is an executive coach and consultant with expertise in building inclusive leadership skill and effective mentoring. She can be contacted by email at abby@serendis.com.au or by phone at (08) 9288 1732.