During my Articles year (as it was known back then) at a top tier firm, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a pro bono mentoring program, which had nothing to do with the law. In partnership with Fawkner Secondary College, over 6 weeks, the aim of the program was to inspire Year 10 students, from under privileged backgrounds, to consider finishing VCE.
I was paired up with a 15 year old devout Muslim girl, who was one of 15 children – she was 7th born so part of the band of middle children. Her form teacher described her as shy and smart, and that if she completed Year 12 she would be the first female in her household to do so. She’s probably the shyest mentee I’ve known, but her preparation gave her confidence. She took great pleasure in peppering me with a whole list of questions for each of our sessions. On the one hand, our lives could not have been more different. On the other hand, what we had in common is that at that age, I too dreamed of working in a big office. I learned a lot about the complicated world of my ambitious Year 10 mentee, and she a little about mine.
Fast forward to 2020 where we live and operate in an era underpinned by complexity. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation have been touted as the next business game changers. As has COVID-19.
The business of legal is is just starting to turn into an innovation have and have not world – those who can harness the powerful combination that is humans and computers, and those who cannot or won’t.
Change is the only constant. Regulation is on the rise. Disruption is the new normal. Pivoting the new order of the day thanks to the C-word.
Yet, mentoring appears to still be #trending in this VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Changing, Ambiguous) and tech focused world, having swelled in the 1980s. Its demand has defied generations – it’s high on the agenda for millennial and Gen Z, according to the second Deloitte Global Millennial Survey of 13,000 + participants across 42 countries.
So, what is it about mentoring that has assured its continuing relevance?
Put simply, and as trite as it sounds, mentoring is ACE.
A is for Awakening
Inner transformation creates outer transformation (@girlandhermoon).
They say that everyone we meet really is there to teach us something; that the teacher shows up when the student is ready.
On one level, mentorship is about problem solving, guidance, wisdom sharing, listening, networking, and like having a human GPS in your life.
But in an era where leadership is moving beyond authenticity to being heart led, mentorship, from a more “woo woo” perspective is also about going deeper within to discover how you show up in the world, learning about yourself, understanding who is the human behind the lawyer, and how you can tap into your individual superpower, whatever your fears or feelings of imposter syndrome.
Parker Palmer in his book, The Courage to Teach, writes:
The power of our mentors is in their capacity to awaken a truth within us, a truth we can reclaim years later by re-calling their impact on our lives. Mentoring is a mutuality that requires more than meeting the right teacher: the teacher must meet the right student. In this encounter, not only are the qualities of the mentor revealed, but the qualities of the student are drawn out in a way that is equally revealing.
As you embark on this mentoring program, regardless of whether you’re a mentee or a mentor, I invite you to be intentional, proactive, and courageously open.
C is for Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement, which includes collaboration and connection.
The current thinking on mentoring is that it is a learning collaboration. Mentoring has evolved away from being a top-down relationship between a senior and junior. Today’s literature describes it as a peer relationship, but with the relationship being led by the needs and goals of the mentee.
On the 29 February 2020 on the Gold Coast in Australia – my last plane trip pre pandemic, I made the following comments to a conference room of Managing Partners, but the sentiment equally applies to any new age law student or new age lawyer.
According to the MIT Leadership Centre, “One trait that is common to the most innovative and successful leaders is that they spend about 30 percent of their work day actively exploring new ideas,”. “They go out of their way to escape their isolation bubbles [excuse the pun] and place themselves in strikingly different situations with different people so they can hear the things they otherwise wouldn’t hear — the things people want to say or ask but don’t.”
I came to understand the power of networks at sixteen. Organising a meaningful legal-related work experience placement was quite the task with parents who were newish immigrants, and who did not know any lawyers. Like, not one. As I watched other students secure placements at television networks and blue chip corporates via family or other connections, I learned a very crucial lesson: “It’s who you know”.
I’m sure we can all probably recall an instance where we have met someone at one point only for it to make sense later.
If you have read (or listened to) my eBook Legally Innovative, you’ll know that I believe that the lawyer of the future needs to have a trifecta of intelligences – EQ (emotional), TQ (technical) and what I call IQ2.0 – innovation intelligence.
I owe the accumulation of my innovation intelligence almost entirely to networking, and mentorship. For most of my in-house legal career, I have chosen to prioritise establishing connections with legal tech providers and innovators around the world to stay on top of, and ahead of, tech trends. Some of these connections have evolved to be trusted sounding boards and a source of collaboration and new ideas.
The beauty of connections is that they tend to foster more connections in an endless and generous web of opportunities – some are a window to success; others are a door. Wherever you are, look outside to grow within.
E is for Evolution
A caterpillar and a butterfly are having a drink together. The caterpillar says to the butterfly “You’ve changed”. The butterfly says, “I’m supposed to”. (Credit: meme on Instagram)
Mentoring expert, Lisa Fain describes it [mentoring] “[as] a critical part of personal growth and development and affords a lifetime of opportunity to grow and develop.”
According to a 2019 Harvard study on the evolution of executives, mentorship makes up 20% of their success. Given there are many females in this program, I thought it also important to mention that the study also found that females are over mentored, but under sponsored (a sponsor being a career opportunity generator).
Many of my biggest career moments and in fact life decisions have been made with the support of a mentor – or a set of mentors. As the CEO of myself, I have, over the years, formed by own Board of Directors. In this way, I have a balanced catalogue of wisdom and styles on which to draw upon to support my evolution.
Some of my mentoring relationships have lasted for years, and others have been short, intentionally. For instance, last year I had a one-time 45-minute meeting with a very well-known former CEO & Chairman of several Top 100 ASX listed companies, to workshop how I needed to edit my CV to make it Board position ready. The mentoring meeting was short and succinct – and that was the intention.
Let’s also address the elephant in the room: not all mentoring relationships, like innovation, will be successful. Some will “fail”, for whatever reason. Please don’t take this personally. Your mentors and mentees will ebb and flow in and out of your life – and that’s perfectly perfect.
In closing, I would like to highlight that mentoring is not a competition or test. We don’t merely “train” to be a mentor or a mentee in a formal way and then follow some rule book. If only personal transformation were that easy.
Mentoring a 15 year old Muslim high school student was a very different experience to mentoring a mature age law student.
But that’s why mentoring is ace.
It’s a time to follow your intuition, to have fun, to bring your best self, and to expand your capacity for self-reflection. From the (A) Awakening of our inner truth, to realising the potential for (C) Continuous Improvement, Connection and Collaboration, right through to the (E) Evolution.
All relationships are your mirrors and all people are your teachers – Barbara De Angelis.
Be Bold. Be Curious. Be Disruptive.
Stay safe, positive and future focused.
And, let’s stay connected. I’m posting only positive things @legallyinnovative on Instagram.