The Value of Mentoring

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This is the first article in the Propel Her – Defence Women’s Leadership Series by Lyndsay Freeman and Shamsa Lea.

Most ADF members don’t realise the value of mentoring until late in their careers – with the common reflection being ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner!?’

Mentoring can change your career and life trajectory. It can open up networks and opportunities beyond your immediate reach, and can give you the tools and confidence to develop and promote yourself.  Most importantly, the right mentor is a valuable role model who can help you see possibilities and play to your strengths to navigate a better path ahead. 

Mentoring ISa voluntary structured or informal partnership between a more experienced person (the mentor) and a less experienced person  (the mentee) to foster personal and professional growth. The arrangement can occur organically (like developing a professional bond with a former supervisor or colleague), or through a structured program. Either way, mentoring works best when there are planned goals and focus areas in mind.

Mentoring IS NOT: training, coaching, teaching, outsourcing specialist expertise, performance management, networking with the goal of sponsorship in selection for a job, or counselling/therapy.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Casting your net. 

Finding a mentor who is the right fit for your needs, strengths, and shortcomings can be challenging. You can search via a formal mentoring program (links below) or find a mentor who is senior to you that you already know, respect and have a professional relationship with. To find this person, think about the aspect of your personal development or career path you want to build, and make a list of people who you admire, particularly in regards to that aspect. Your mentor is not a ‘sponsor’, i.e. that high-ranked person who can back you at selection committees. 

Reaching out to a potential mentor takes courage, but start with a short email that introduces yourself (if required) and says something like: ‘I am hoping to draw on your experiences and advice to shape my career and personal development, and I would be keen to have a chat with you about whether you would be a good fit to become my mentor. I know your time is valuable so please let me know a time that suits your schedule.’

2. The first date. 

It is essential that the mentee and mentor meet and establish a rapport before commencing any formal arrangement. For the initial catch up, make a list of points to discuss, which may include:

  • How formal or informal you want the mentoring relationship to be.
  • How often you plan on meeting up.
  • Your career plan and realistic goals you would like to achieve, including what ‘success’ looks like to you.
  • Consider your strengths and weaknesses, and what issues and barriers you may face in achieving your goals.
  • What you want from a mentor, which might include a) someone who helps you think differently and see the bigger picture; b) someone to help you see opportunities and expand your network; c) a go-to resource to offer guidance on challenges that you could face along your career path.

3. A successful mentoring arrangement.

Once the arrangement is agreed on, its success is in your hands. Our three top tips on how to achieve a successful and valuable mentorship are:

  • Develop an environment of mutual trust from the start. Open up and share your goals and passions, and demonstrate that everything that is said in the session is private. This will allow your mentor to openly share their own real-life experiences to give you food-for-thought on your own path.
  • Be willing to accept tough love and listen. You WANT your mentor to give you frank and fearless advice, and you need to show them that you are committed to making progress.
  • Don’t feel guilty in politely and respectfully ending a mentoring relationship if it doesn’t work for you. It may take you a few mentors to find “the one”, but don’t waste their time and yours if their advice is not value-adding or the chemistry isn’t happening.

4. Mentor in all directions.

To get the true value from mentoring, you must seek to receive mentoring, offer mentoring to junior members, and partake in peer-to-peer mentoring. If you take on a mentoring role, a key piece of advice from Steven Spielberg suggests that ‘The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.’ Peer-to-peer mentoring is invaluable, and you won’t grow without the honest feedback and perspectives of your peers. Helping others succeed is a core value of being a military leader, and that goes for supporting and advising your peers just as much as your team.

5. Create a mentoring culture

Mentoring is good for the ADF – effective mentoring makes members feel more engaged with their workplace and experience greater work satisfaction. This leads to greater productivity and retention of future leaders. As leaders, try to create a mentoring culture in your workplace so that mentoring becomes embedded in the fabric of the organisation, and Defence members at all levels understand that development is a priority and a value.   

What does mentoring look like for us? Lyndsay has two formal mentors (both women and both highly respected leaders in their field) – one is ex-military that currently works in Lyndsay’s area of interest; and the other is external to Defence she met through the AWE Mentoring Program who has worked in an area that Lyndsay is passionate about outside Defence. She formally mentors a junior female Officer outside her Corps, and an ADFA Trainee Officer through their female mentoring program, and fosters peer-to-peer mentoring with a group of close colleagues that seek feedback, advice and development opportunities from each other.

Shamsa coordinates the Air Force Logistics Officer Mentoring Program, and previously developed a regional Air Force female mentoring program. Both are structured opportunities to connect members with senior mentors that may otherwise be perceived as ‘out of reach’ to junior members. In the pilot female mentoring program, all 45 women (mentors and mentees) expressed they were “confident” or “very confident” that mentoring had directly enhanced their goal setting and leadership skills. The power of mentoring cannot be overstated. 

Mentoring initiatives within the ADF:

  • The Navy Women Mentoring Program covers pre-post partum, parenting and professional development. Search on DPN or contact
  • The Australian Defence Force Academy run a female mentoring program. Mentors are to be Warrant Officer (equivalent) or above. Contact
  • The Women’s Integrated Networking Groups (WINGs) is a localised program that facilitates mentoring and networking at each RAAF base. Information can be found on the WINGs page on the DPN.
  • Many individual specialisations/trades in the ADF run their own mentoring programs. Ask a senior member in your specialisation/trade or your respective career advisor.

Mentoring initiatives external to the ADF:

About the authors

Lyndsay Freeman is a mother of two and a Transport Officer in the Australian Army. She is a Chief of Army Scholar for 2020 and is completing a Master of International Development Practice, specialising in Gender, Peace & Security, at Monash University. Lyndsay is passionate about the ADF’s pivotal role in advocating for women’s empowerment across the globe. Twitter: @LyndsayFreeman8.

Shamsa Lea is an Air Force Logistics Officer, leadership coach and sessional academic at University of Southern Queensland. She has been engaged in female recruitment, retention and progression activities in Defence for a number of years, with a specific interest in helping ADF women achieve their leadership potential. Twitter: @ShamsaLea.