Match-making and mentoring: A million Miles from Married at first sight

By Penny Spencer

What does ‘mentoring’ mean to you?

I suspect many think it’s a passive pursuit. Something that happens without you really doing much. Like learning by osmosis.

Sure, that can happen. You might be a young professional and have the great fortune to work with an inspirational leader. You might learn a lot from that person, collecting traits and skills through observation. You might look back years later and think, “Gosh, I learned a lot from her. And he also shaped my career. They were great mentors.”

That’s a common experience. But is it really ‘mentoring’. I hate to break it to you—I don’t think it is. Admiration of a role model? Yes. Mentoring? Nope.

Mentoring is a two-way engagement. Put simply, both parties need to acknowledge that there’s an exchange taking place. That requires an approach or invitation, and agreed parameters, goals and expectations beyond ‘teach me to be just like you’.

Mentoring should be challenging, it should take mentees outside their comfort zones and into new places of possibility and progression. It’s hard work, and best results come when both parties really put in.

So, how do you find the right mentor? The person you admire might not actually be the best person to bring out your best. From experience, it’s easy to get wrong. My mentor radar misfired a few times when I was younger.

Fortunately, on other occasions, insightful colleagues and managers said, “Oh, you should speak to so-and-so. He’s open to mentoring. You two would get a lot out of it.”

I also engaged with some formal mentoring organisations early in my career.

This was an important lesson: There’s an element of mentor match-making that’s sometimes best left to others. It’s what drove me to establish the Travel Industry Mentor Experience (TIME). In 10 years of operation, TIME has developed a system of matching committed mentees with willing mentors — experienced professionals with just the right skills and experience sets for each mentee.

The process is tailored and refined. Now, you might think that’s a bit Married at First Sight — and we all know how that usually ends. Sure, it’s no guarantee of great results — after all, we’re talking about human interactions here — but it dramatically increases the chances of success. In fact, TIME gets it right 99% of the time.

No matter how you engage your mentor — through a hot-house like TIME, or by bravely taking things into your own hands — when it works, the transformations are astonishing. No two are identical, but one thing is common: self-belief and confidence in decision-making go through the roof. There’s a clarity of thinking and a willingness to back yourself that drives careers to exciting, rewarding new places.

Role models are great. We all have them and typically admire them from a distance. But when you’re ready to take action, get yourself a mentor and get to work.

Penny Spencer is the founder of the Spencer Group of Companies and Managing Director of Spencer Travel — named Australia’s Best Corporate Travel Agency — Single Location on six occasions at the National Travel Industry Awards. Penny is a passionate advocate for mentoring, and established the not-for-profit Travel industry Mentor Experience (TIME) in 2009 to develop the future leaders of Australia’s travel industry.

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