8 tips for growing a killer support network, from a successful Australian director and mentor

Sharon Warburton is a single mum, an executive director at Brookfield Multiplex, and holds five other board positions at Australian organisations, including Fortescue Metals Group.

Her “no excuses, there is always time” approach to work and mentoring has earned her many industry awards, including the Western Australian Telstra Businesswoman Of The Year Award and more recently The Women’s Agenda NAB Mentor of the Year award.

Business Insider caught up with Warburton to find out what makes a successful mentoring relationship.

1. There is always time in every day.

While some of her mentoring is organised internally at Brookfield, Warburton said most is usually done “on an ad hoc basis”.

“Rarely, if ever, I commute in my car and I’m not on the phone to a mentoree. Same goes for a coffee break, lunch break, all those sort of times.

2. There is no rule about how many mentorees, or mentors you can have…

“I’d have 20 to 25 one-on-one mentorees who I talk to once a month… and others through group formats,” she said.

“Myself, I have four or five mentors… I wouldn’t say they’re formal or official though. I call them if I want to bounce an idea off them or get some support, or if I want vent about something.”

3. …As long as it’s more than one.

“I think it’s important to have more than one,” she said.

“Diversity of thought is so powerful and whether it’s for mentors or leadership, if you’re in an environment where you can get different views on something then it’s going to be a winner.”

4. Choose people from diverse backgrounds, if you can.

While Warburton admits all her mentors are former bosses, who happen to be men, she says: “challenge yourself”.

“Look for people who aren’t like you… you can learn so much from different people.

“I think you have to put my situation into context. My mentors have been based on the industries that I have worked in over the course of my career – the construction and mining sector which are industries with some of the lowest female participation rates.

“One of the to-dos on my bucket list this year is to reach out to a female mentor because that would give me diversity of thought and be incredibly valuable,” she said adding, “it doesn’t need to be someone in your industry to benefit from their wisdom.”

5. It doesn’t need to be a serious commitment – just talking helps.

“There’s something incredibly powerful in verbally sharing experiences with other people,” Warburton says.

“It allows you to learn and possibly be reminded of the importance of certain things.

“It’s also important to communicate very openly so you both understand where you are, what you’re doing and what’s going on.”

6. It’s a mutually beneficial experience.

While Warburton said having a strong support network, such as a mentor, is essential to success, she also said being a mentor has its perks.

“I’ve realised how amazing mentoring is and how much personal satisfaction I get out of helping others.”

To reach a broader audience, Warburton established an online resource for women seeking mentoring advice and tools called Steel Heels.

“Stage one [of Steel Heels] incorporates the power of story telling”, a mix of her own experiences as well as guest blogs, with a new post uploaded every week.

“Stage two, which is a couple of months away, is a creation of tool kits to deal with specific situations,” she said.

“It’s great. Women from around the country, and around world, are using it and connected with it.”

7. Know what you want from the relationship.

Warbuton suggests working out what you want to gain for a mentor before settling with someone. This will ensure no one’s time is wasted and that you get the best experience from the relationship.

“Write down why you want a mentor and what you think you’re going to get from them, then you will get a big clue about the sort of person that is right to help you.”

8. Be creative in your search for a mentor.

“We should encourage mentees to be creative when thinking about the procurement of mentors,” said Warburton.

“Organisations don’t always offer opportunities so it’s important to remember there’s a lot of online help, professionals who can organised mentoring set ups, group mentoring programs.

“Don’t make assumptions about where to look for a mentor.”

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