I have an unofficial mentor, or a mentor in denial because he doesn’t like to think of himself as a mentor.
More than 16 years ago I walked into the office of Eric Beecher, then CEO of Text Media, to discuss an editorship he was looking to fill. Eric had an idea for a new food magazine with a unique distribution model. I had spent the previous seven years editing magazines for young women that didn’t include food. My initial thought, which I shared with Eric, was: “I have never launched a magazine or worked with food so I’m not sure I can do this”. Eric was undeterred. He looked me in the eye and with such confidence said, “I have been told you can edit and I believe the skills are transferable”.
I stared at him for a minute, thinking about the significance of his statement, and then said, “well if you think I can do it, then I can do it”. By the end of that day I had signed on to do something I had never done before just because someone believed in me. It turned out to be a career turning point and a definite highlight prior to the launch of Women’s Agenda.
That conversation began a 16-year journey of guidance. With every conversation I would learn something from this brilliant former newspaper editor, but without the lecture that so often comes with direction from above. Eric would suggest an idea or question a decision but then leave it to me to decide if I would do anything with that.
There were a few ideas he wasn’t keen on when I first talked him through my editorial plan for Australian Good Taste, the food title that brought us together. I found myself justifying the ideas and in the process tightening the approach to them. He never forced me to include or exclude a story but just to be certain of the reason it was in the mix. I became a far more strategic editor as a result. He then selflessly attributed the success of the magazine to me whenever he discussed it in public.
In the years post our involvement with Australian Good Taste, we remained in contact: two people with too many ideas and a passion for media. A couple of times a year we would catch up for coffee to discuss the state of the media and share our latest big ideas. I always walked away having learned something more that I could put to use in my current role.
Eric would always push me to take risks with my career, never to be complacent and to chase the big idea. If I have ever felt uncertain of anything, including job offers over the years, I would contact Eric for advice. He has always been selflessly available to me. Remarkable when you think about it.
About a year ago I mentioned the M-word to Eric and he dismissed it saying, “we’re both beyond that”. Eric doesn’t see his guidance as mentoring. But the reality is that over the years his advice has been responsible for many key career decisions that I have made, including moving from print to digital media five years ago.
In my experience the two most important attributes of a good mentor are:
- They must believe in you and with such conviction that you cannot help but believe in yourself too.
- They cannot be even the slightest bit competitive with you. Their desire to see you achieve and succeed must be genuine.
According to Giam Swieger, chief executive officer of Deloitte Australia, women are less likely to actively seek a mentor and that is why he actively encourages mentoring for women in his company. I challenge you to watch his interview with Women’s Agenda editor Angela Priestley and not want to work for this inspirational leader.
Do you have a mentor who has added value to your career? How were you introduced to your mentor?