#edGY: Breaking the ice: Do I need a mentor?

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ALEX MALLEY, CEO of Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Australia, has a habit of greeting passers-by while taking his morning stroll to the nearest coffee joint. He often gets blank stares, but occasionally engages in conversations with strangers.

No man is an island, and clichéd and banal as this aphorism seems, Malley believes that those who seek to build effective relationships with others are already more than halfway to building success on their own.

He encourages everyone to keep their eyes and ears peeled to conversations and experiences they can learn from, keeping in mind that every person offers a perspective worth listening to.

The best way to do this is to cultivate the healthy habit of mentorship.

Malley, who is currently responsible for 19 offices globally and more than 150,000 CPA Australia members in 120 countries, hopes to instil a global culture of mentorship through his website www.thenakedceo.com, as a complement to his newly released book of the same name.

Via the website, he provides personal video responses to work and leadership-related queries through practical tips and strategies.

He also imparts bits and pieces of inspiration from real-life stories during his youth and the journey to get to where he is today.

Believing that behind every great leader is an equally great mentor, Malley shares with #edGY his insight into the importance of mentorship, and what one should do to begin building such relationships.

#edGY: Are mentorships important? How do people begin their journey of finding the right mentor?

Alex Malley: Success in life, in my view, is measured by the way you navigate with people and the way you build relationships with them. That is why mentorships are important. The most successful people in the world have not done it by themselves.

They’ve done it with a whole cohort of people who have ultimately come and followed them through on a vision.

I think a lot of people think that they should wait for stages of their life to find a mentor. My answer is if you haven’t started, start today.

Take fear and embarrassment out. They are the two words that define the bread of your life. If you learn how to smile at fear and embarrassment, you have a big life. And that is an inherent decision you have to make.

Begin by committing and training yourself to build human connections every day with a different person. Effectively, start off by talking to different people, introducing yourself to them and be genuinely interested in them.

If you’re naturally interested in people, most people of an adult nature would think that it’s wonderful that a young person has done that.

Is it important to have a physical mentor? Aren’t mentorship websites and forums such as www.thenakedceo.com sufficient?

If you don’t involve human communication in your mentorship, you lose the body language that is the essence of communication.

I think you’ve got to find ways to seek independent advice from a website like ours, which has no other agenda than to give you advice that you are looking for.

But you’ve also got to find your local physical mentor whom you can go to, and sit and laugh with. If need be, cry with them and share your emotions with them openly.

How does one break the ice?

To start with, approach anyone who has more wrinkles on their face than you, which for young people is almost every adult.

Begin by asking questions such as, ‘How do you find it leaving university to work?’ and ‘If you were younger again, what would you have done differently?’

Be like an interviewer on television and try to find out about people’s experiences. So, rather than asking them for something, ask something about them instead. That’s always a fantastic way to open a conversation with an adult.

One of them might say something that will really resonate with you. Use their responses as your guide to who might be more intuitively connected to you.

What else should one look out for in a potential mentor?

An effective mentor will answer a question with a question. So, they are forever trying to get you to try to resolve your own issues.

Mentors should constantly be questioning you and teasing you to find out who you are inside.

Work with a mentor that encourages curiosity. Because, if you’re not curious, you don’t explore. And if you don’t explore, you don’t expand.

The tension for the mentor and mentee is to not presume the mentor is always right. Because they’re old doesn’t mean their answers are always right.

How does one build effective relationships with a mentor?

Seek to have regular catch-ups. That could be once every couple of weeks to start with, over a cup of coffee, with a phone call every alternate week.

But what’s really important about the relationship is that you don’t go into a mentor-mentee relationship seeking answers.

You go in there hearing your own voice and sometimes, to have someone who lets you talk long enough to hear what you’re saying out loud can actually make you realise you’ve been going down the wrong way.

But if you see a mentor as a person you consult periodically and they give you all the answers, then that’s not what it is. And if it is, stop it, because you’re not going to make your own decisions and you’re going to start relying on everyone else.

Try giving your mentor examples of the difficulties you’re having in dealing with people and ask them to share their experiences of how they deal with difficult people, and then take that away and think about what approach you might take.

So, practise that and get back to your mentor and say ‘Look that worked really well’ or ‘It sort of worked and I need to keep going’. Stick to their experiences. Ask your mentor what worked and what didn’t. Because if you learn about people’s mistakes, you’re likely to make less yourself.

What can a young person offer a mentor rather than just asking for advice and help?

The great thing about having a mentor is that a good mentor will get enormous pleasure from having a magnificent young diamond that is very rough who comes up to them and talks to them, seeking their advice and experience. That is a great compliment to the mentor.

So, it’s really important for the mentees not to think they have to do anything to show value to the mentor.

By being young and inquisitive and polite and respectful, they are giving the mentor much more than they could ever imagine.

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This article first appeared in #edGY, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 4 - 10, 2015.