Why having a mentor is the best way to fasttrack your career

Do you have someone in your life who forces you to tackle tricky work and business issues, set goals and be accountable for the results?

A good mentor does all that and finding one you click with will help you succeed in business or climb the greasy pole at work, according to celebrity businessman-turned-reality-TV-star Mark Bouris.

His latest venture is a business which matches ambitious individuals with trained mentors who meet with them to find solutions to the problems they're grappling with.

The Wizard's Apprentice

It's a modus operandi whose effectiveness Bouris can attest to personally. He spent five years in business with the late Kerry Packer, a major investor in Wizard Home Loans, and met with him monthly, from 1999 to 2005, to crunch the numbers and chew over his expansion plans.

Being quizzed by the billionaire tycoon whose name was a byword for toughness may have been a tremor-inducing experience for some, but Bouris credits much of his subsequent success to the mentoring relationship which evolved between the pair.

"Kerry never gave me any answers, he always gave me questions and I found that to be the most important thing I ever had in my business career – someone who asked me the questions," he says.

"That's what drove me, having to see him every month with answers…I knew he would never forget what I said the month before because he had an unbelievable memory. I knew that I'd have to come back the next month and say what I did in relation to what I had to do."

Critical development

Insight gleaned as a result of Packer's use of the Socratic method – teaching students to develop critical thinking skills and find solutions through sustained questioning – was more valuable than mere advice could ever have been, according to Bouris.

"He never sat me down and told me how to run a business, ever – not once," he says.


"But I'd walk out of there knowing what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong."

Entrepreneurs and business owners who don't look for similar opportunities to face the difficult issues du jour with a trusted and well credentialed third party can struggle to succeed, Bouris believes.

"It's too hard….no one can juggle that stuff," he says. "People have breakdowns and also it allows someone else to wear a bit of the stress.

"It's amazing what happens when we talk things through, how much better you feel after it. Otherwise, you've almost got to feel it's bouncing around [in your head] 24 hours a day."

Experience matters

Mentors can be as valuable to individuals climbing the corporate ladder as they are to those shooting for a spot on the AFR Fast 100 List, according to careers specialist Edwin Trevor-Roberts.

Connecting with someone who's (frequently) older and wiser can provide you with a sounding board, moral support, sage advice on sticky issues, introductions to decision makers and access to unadvertised opportunities.

[A mentoring relationship] allows you to take some time out from the business and the humdrum of work, to stop and reflect and say 'how am I going, what impact am I making, what could I do differently next time I face that situation?'," Trevor-Roberts says.

"It's a space for reflexivity."

Where to find one

Many large organisations run programs which match early career employees with senior staffers but less formal arrangements outside the workplace can be just as beneficial, provided you're clear about what you hope to achieve from the interaction.

"The question to ask is what do you need at this point to progress you forward, whatever forward looks like, and therefore what sort of a mentoring relationship do you need, if you need one," Trevor-Roberts says.

Ceiling smashers

While women remain under-represented at the helms of sizeable businesses and in the C suite, they're better than men at finding mentors to help them move towards their goals, Bouris and Trevor-Roberts agree.

"More males need [mentors] than they realise because very often they're not actively seeking that feedback about how they're going and what's happening," Trevor-Roberts says.

"But [within companies] females need them more, they need to have people who are influential and able to introduce them to networks and relationships that they don't necessarily have…So many senior executive roles are male dominated and those relationships are implicit and automatic and women need people who can introduce them."

For some men, just the act of asking for advice or assistance can be tricky, Bouris adds.

"Men can just feel, if I ask a question or if I say something, someone else might think I'm weak, whereas women tend to be much more open to this stuff," he says.

Mark Bouris presents MENTOR MASTERCLASS  Brisbane (Feb 21), Melbourne (Feb 25) and Sydney (Feb 27).