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Learning from each other through mentoring

By Karyl Estrella

“How lucky am I?” That was the reaction of Sian Stephens FIML when she found out that she was paired with Marianne Di Giallonardo CMgr MIML. Their mentoring partnership not only opened up new insights for these two leaders, but they each also gained a trusted confidante.

Di Giallonardo built her career in local government leadership and is currently the director of corporate services at Maroondah City Council in Victoria. On the other hand, Stephens, who is the human resources business partner at financial services company Enhanced Group, has worked mostly in the private sector. Despite their different professional backgrounds, both have mentored others in the past.

So, for Stephens, this relationship was different. “This is my first experience being a mentee, and I got involved because I was completing the Chartered Manager program,” she explains.

Switching to the mentee side was an exciting and welcome change for Stephens. The pair had met previously at various IML ANZ events, and Stephens knew that her mentor has an incredible amount of knowledge to share. Hence her excitement when she first found out who her mentor would be.

One of the gems that Stephens acquired from her mentor was a reminder to focus. “She helped me to keep my head straight, reminding me to build on my strengths and avoid always doing everything for everybody,” Stephens recalls.

Sian Stephens

Di Giallonardo’s experience also proved invaluable when Stephens faced a challenging situation. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve rarely faced prejudice because I’m a woman in business. However, something happened within a group I was working with, and I felt that I couldn’t trust the room,” she explains.

“Marianne has had more experience in dealing with situations like this. It was great to have a safe space to discuss it in a rational way,” Stephens adds. “She helped me understand why I felt the way I did and what I could do when I interact with this group in the future because this wasn’t a one-off situation.”

After acting on Di Giallonardo’s advice and guidance, Stephens admits that slowly but surely the communication within the entire group is changing.

Of course, good partnerships aren’t one-sided. Di Giallonardo says, “In a good mentoring relationship, both parties learn and grow along the way. That’s certainly what I felt with Sian.”

Her mentee provided a fresh perspective on matters that are often of secondary importance in local government, such as income streams. “Local government tends to look at minimising expenditure whereas in the private sector, they regularly look at income streams and how to expand, leverage or maximise it. That was good for me to understand,” Di Giallonardo points out.

Marianne Di Giallonardo

On top of learning from each other, the mentoring process also ensured they got the most from their four-month partnership. Di Giallonardo believes a flexible mentoring program works best. “It’s really between the mentor and the mentee to strike the necessary balance of arrangements within a time-bound period. So, flexibility allows participants to construct that relationship in a way that’s going to help them get the best outcome.”

Meanwhile, Stephens believes mentoring is an integral part of stepping up as a leader. “Don’t wait until you are struggling,” she says. “As soon as you’re in a position of responsibility, find somebody outside your workplace or industry to give you fresh perspectives and to listen”.

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