Jo Smail is a Senior Trade & Investment Commissioner with Austrade in Washington and mentor Peter Loxton, Chair of NSW Health Pathology is based in Sydney. Their virtual mentoring relationship came at a time when Jo was in a new role, a new country, part of an organisational-wide transformation and in 2020, a global pandemic that required all teams to work remotely.
Mentee: Joanne Smail, Minister Counsellor (Commercial) / Senior Trade & Investment Commissioner, Austrade, Washington, US
Joanne leads a team of business development professionals that connect Australian exporters with commercial opportunities in the US and attract foreign direct investment into priority Australian industries. She is an international executive with experience delivering large-scale business transformation and company growth in disruptive environments. MBA qualified and a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Joanne’s areas of specialty include developing and executing strategies and plans for improved customer experience, technology enablement and cultural change.
What was the most valuable aspect of the mentoring?
Having someone “in your corner” that “has your back”. Someone that has come to know you for who you are, the strengths you bring to your role and the fears you bring too. Someone who can stress test your thinking in a way that is supportive but helps you find the right way to tackle each situation. Someone who believes you can do great things and makes you want to do great things.
Some examples of where mentoring has helped?
The mentoring validated the difficult decisions that I needed to make for the benefit of my team and our organisation. It helped me to think clearly, follow due process and be patient while I implemented my strategy. It has been very rewarding to take a team to a great place where everyone is safe to thrive. I was also able to more clearly define my personal brand within my organisation and the relationships to nurture. In addition, I have significantly improved the relationship with a key internal stakeholder, understanding their perspective and becoming more of a partnership.
Was it of particular use during challenging times?
Yes, the mentoring was very useful during my induction into a new role, in reforming my team, during organisational-wide transformation and through a pandemic which required all our teams to work remotely.
Were there any challenges with virtual mentoring?
It was perfect. My work weeks are busy and it was nice to be able to just jump on at the required time, without having to travel to be somewhere. The platform was easy and good quality. We never had any challenges.
Were you matched well? I believe we were matched well.
Overall experience and outcomes?
I believe the mentoring experience helped to build my confidence in my role. The mentoring also helped me to position my personal brand in my organisation and set my sights higher than I had been. Most of all, I am now content to be me and trust that I have strong yet compassionate leadership skills that are of value.
Mentor: Peter Loxton, Managing Director, Peter Loxton and Assoc; Chair, NSW Health Pathology, Sydney
Peter delivers high-level strategic analysis, reviews, governance & mentoring for government and business. Prior to this role, Peter spent over 25 years in executive roles within Government as Assistant Director General in four roles in NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, and acted as Director General of five agencies. He is the Chair of NSW Health Pathology, former Chair of Carriageworks and non-executive director of Sydney Festival, State Records and Museums and Galleries NSW.
What do you see has been the impact of mentoring?
It was very rewarding mentoring Joanne. She is a strong strategic thinker and we had some valuable discussions about how she was going to develop herself, her team and the achievement of what they are doing. It was hugely satisfying seeing her growth in confidence and skills as a leader and in her role.
What did you enjoy most?
I learnt a lot from the experience. She is highly intelligent and capable and we had some good discussions. Being able to work with her on clarifying her goals and keeping her on track with achieving these was rewarding. She knew I was in her corner when she needed it. My focus was to help her succeed.
What was the most important qualities you needed for the successful relationship?
Trust was critical to build the strong relationship and being open with each other. Jo was candid in what she saw were her challenges and how we were going to work on those. Understanding that the end decision is always the mentees and there needs to be a high level of investment of the process from both of us is also important. Jo grabbed it with both hands.
Was the video conferencing a challenge?
Virtual mentoring was no barrier. We were both very confident it would work and it was never a challenge for us to build trust and rapport. It requires a level of focus and clarity on the agenda and goals. If anything, it may have strengthened the outcomes as we were always conscious of making the most of the time and really listening to each other. Our sessions were max 1.5hrs as that’s long enough on videoconference. We stayed in touch when things came up in-between too.