Monday, 6 October 2014

Putting a wise head on a young career

Most people who are successful end up that way because they’ve sought out mentors to show them how to reach the top. Australia’s current prime minister, for example, always treated his old boss, John Howard, as a sort of father figure and regularly sought his advice during his quest to occupy The Lodge.

The advantages of having a sage adviser

A mentor can be viewed as a kind of workplace parent – someone who can warn you against making short-sighted moves that could damage your career and instead encourage you to do those things that may be uncomfortable at first but will reap great rewards in the future.

Experience is a valuable thing. And while there’s no substitute for earning it the hard way, there’s also no rule against leveraging the wisdom of others.

A true mentor will provide honest feedback on how you’re performing and offer suggestions on how to improve your performance. They may also introduce you to people in their own network who can further your career.

The right time for outside input

There is an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. The 21st century version is that when you feel you have something to learn – be it technical skills, management skills or even life skills – you’re ready to seek out a mentor.

The mentor marketplace

People often agonise over where to find an appropriate mentor, but it’s really not that hard. In fact, if you think about it, you’ve almost certainly been mentored throughout your life by relatives, former teachers and sports coaches.

Many companies have mentoring schemes in place. If yours doesn’t (or you’d prefer to venture outside it), you can find a mentor through Chartered Accountants Australia, CPA Australia or the Australian Businesswomen’s Network.

Alternatively, you can simply contact someone you admire – even if you don’t know them – and ask them if they would be interested in mentoring you. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

There are no hard and fast rules about what makes a good mentor. If the individual in question is someone you respect, can teach you what you want to know and help you get where you want to be, they’re almost certainly good enough for your purposes, regardless of their location in the org chart, industry reputation or educational qualifications.

The mentor–mentee relationship

Like any other relationship, mentor–mentee relationships go through phases. In the early days, there may be a lot of enthusiasm on both sides, with the mentor flattered that someone is so interested in what they have to say and the mentee eager to learn all they can.

Over time, that initial enthusiasm will fade and interactions might become less frequent. And, if the mentor has done his or her job properly, at some point the mentee will have learnt all they can. At this stage, the parties involved may decide to stay in touch or go their separate ways.

However the relationship unfolds, the mentee should always show the appropriate gratitude and respect towards the person who has chosen to help them out.

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