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Real Business : 2013 Issue 1
20 Finding the right mentor is important but, says CPA Australia CEO Alex Malley, making the most of the relationship is essential. It’s pretty obvIous Luke Skywalker wouldn’t have become a Jedi knight without Obi-Wan Kenobi’s invaluable help and guidance. Even if you are not from a galaxy far, far away, mentors can be indispensable to your career advancement. A chap called Telemachus was the first mentee. When his dad Odysseus headed off to fight in the Trojan Wars he left an old friend, Mentor, in charge of Telemachus’s development – and ever since, the word mentor has been used when referring to an older person imparting knowledge to someone younger. It’s not really known whether the original Mentor did a bang-up job, but he certainly spawned a movement that has now been embraced by many large companies. By 2009 70 per cent of the Fortune 500 compa- nies had mentoring schemes. Companies such as IBM actively mentor new employees as a matter of course and there is a host of mentoring consultancies that work with companies and individuals. So finding a good mentor may not be as hard as you expect, but how do you prepare once you’ve found one? CPA Australia CEO Alex Malley FCPA has been both a formal and informal mentor to many students over the course of his career. And as The Naked CEO he is still at it, constantly answering questions and giving advice to Passport proteges. Here’s his advice. How long have you been mentoring people? Because I had a childhood that involved my mother being particularly ill with depression, I think I learned to sit with her, right at the start, and be able to talk to her during her difficulties. So I learned to watch and observe very carefully and I know when to enter the stage and have the right conversation in order to bring about a better conclusion. Without knowing it at the time, that’s prob- ably been my most definitive experience. As my life’s unfolded I’ve found myself mentoring people who perhaps were more experienced than me, but I had a sense of life that framed the conversations. What have your experiences as a mentor been like? My goal as a mentor is to add a little bit of confusion to the mind of the PhOtO:©LuCAsFiLMLtd&tMALLRightsREsERvEd masterblaster mentee. The reason is they ’ve got so much struc- ture, they can’t have an open mind. I often listen to what they say, then create a little bit of chaos in the conversation to make them think about other things and other dimensions. Those I’ve had a relationship with will tend to say at the end of that experience, “I see my opportunities and abilities as much bigger than the next role”. I fear there are still too many people in the world both younger and a bit older who see a life journey as the next stage to the next role and I think that’s incredibly limiting. Rather than say “I want to be a CEO”, I say “Tell me where your passions are and the leadership role will come with the right journey”. It’s about opening people’s minds up to a much bigger stage. I’ve generally found that has worked with all of the people I’ve mentored. Is a mentor relationship similar to a parent? No, not at all. It’s important not to be become too reliant on a mentor. I have seen circum- stances where people start to become indecisive and always think they need to speak to a guru or mentor to make a decision. I think you’ve got to be very careful about that. A good mentor is there to allow you to reflect and go away and make your own decisions. Sometimes a young mentee might want to extend that and go that next step and ask, “ What do you think I should do?”. That’s the worst thing a mentee should ask. And if the mentor tries to answer, that’s the worst response they can possibly make. What makes a good mentee? You should spend a significant amount of time putting together a CV that is an expression of who you are as a person, rather than just a tech- nical guide of your journey to date. That should obviously be part of it, but you must explain yourself as a person through your CV. You must develop the ability to follow up – so if managing up mentoring “Obi-Wan is a great mentor; as wise as Master Yoda and as powerful as Master Windu.” anakin skywalker Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Issue 3 2012