Who is on your shelf of mentors?


Last month I attended a great presentation by Jane Huxley, the Managing Director of Pandora Australia. Reflecting on her diverse and interesting career, Jane shared some of the lessons that she has learned along the way. If you ever get a chance to see Jane talk, I highly recommend it - the audience was buzzing afterwards! One concept that I loved was Jane’s “shelf of mentors”. A shelf of mentors is a “pick and mix” approach to mentoring. It is about drawing knowledge and inspiration from a range of different people, and knowing that each mentor has their own special place on your shelf. You might have someone that you look to when you are after a promotion, someone in a particular role or industry, or someone who inspires you because they have done something great with their career that you would like to replicate.

Recently, I realised that I was desperately seeking a mentor to assist with my career progression and development. I felt frustrated that I didn’t have a “go to” person to mentor me through the challenges and opportunities that were presenting themselves in my life.

What I learnt from Jane was that I was approaching mentoring with the wrong attitude. I don’t need one “go to” mentor. In fact, when I stopped and thought about it, I already had a whole range of mentors, who each have given me guidance and support in a different way. If anything, looking for one person to mentor me in all aspects of my life is a pretty big ask!

Building your own shelf of mentors provides you with a range of people to draw upon in different situations. So time to get building! Here’s my three tips for building your own shelf of mentors:

  • Reflect. Think about the different aspects of your life. Take stock of your relationships at work, university, different groups you have joined and people you have connected with at events. I found that putting together a list of people who have helped me in all different ways was a really useful tool to see how many mentors I really have!
  • Connect. I think everyone is guilty of letting a connection slip, and losing touch with a potential mentor. Sometimes, I put off contacting someone who I find inspiring, or who I would love to seek guidance from, because I know they lead a super busy life and I don’t want to harass them. Another thing I need to work on is proactively getting in touch with people. Go out on a limb, take the time to connect. It all feels worthwhile when a you receive a reply!
  • Engage. It is amazing how many people are out there that could find their own special place on your shelf of mentors. By giving back to others around you, being interested, and looking for opportunities, I have found that my friends, colleagues, even connections I have made on Twitter and LinkedIn are more than willing to point you in the direction of a new potential mentor.

All of a sudden, I realised that my shelf of mentors is pretty full!