Case study with Leesa Bauer and Maree Taylor
L-R Leesa Bauer (Mentee) & Maree Taylor (Mentor)
Leesa Bauer - Mentee
Leesa Bauer is a highly experienced and well-respected professional in business and operations management. She has worked for Westpac for more than 20 years, transitioning from one management role to another across the dynamic institution. Seeking to diversify her corporate profession, grow her directorship career and evolve as a leader, Leesa joined the My Mentor program and was paired with notable mentor, Maree Taylor.
Can you share a little about your career history?
I’ve been in the banking and finance arena for more than 20 years, but originally was a high school teacher. I loved teaching, but I wanted something else so I entered the corporate world. During my time with Westpac, I’ve worked in many different areas and departments. That’s one of the advantages of a huge organisation like Westpac — there’s a lot of opportunity to move! I was given a lot of responsibility quite early in my career and being able to manage that with a young family was a challenge. I worked very hard to learn quickly on my feet, but I realise now, that I’m not super human. Would I be able to do it again? I’m not sure. I think I would do it differently. My career has taught me that resilience and adaptability are my key strengths.
What are your reasons for seeking out a mentor?
I had wanted to diversify my career path for some time and had the opportunity to join DCH Animal Adoptions when we fostered a cat for my daughter in 2015. The organisation was going through a lot of flux and came to a stalemate when the Board couldn’t agree so the entire board was stood down. They were looking for new members and I was in the right place at the right time. I was their Treasurer, but also their Accountant, but quickly realised that I didn’t know very much so sought the support of WOB and AICD.
I wanted the support of a mentor to get an x-ray vision into myself… a sensibility into what I wasn’t seeing. I like to think I know myself fairly well — I know I’m sometimes too critical — but I wanted someone to make sure I was awake to my unconscious and conscious behaviours. I think there is always room for growth and it is important to try different things. Mentoring is one way, and you can have many mentors, formally or informally. They will challenge you to see the unknowns. It’s great for brain placidity; it keeps you nimble and open-minded.
How did you become involved with the WOB My Mentor program?
On my journey to growing myself as a company director, I looked at AICD, but I had actually been interested in WOB for quite some time before. I liked the different energy that came with WOB — the interpersonal connections really spoke to me so I chose the My Mentor program.
How did you find the mentor/mentee relationship with Maree Taylor?
Maree made it really easy. I was lucky to get her, which I think is a testament to WOB’s ability to match suitable mentors with mentees. We originally met face-to-face over a coffee prior to COVID to see if it was a partnership that would work for both of us. We had time to think about it and were both happy to progress. Maree is very grounded, has a wealth of experience in mentoring, coaching, human resources and time in the corporate world. Her insights were invaluable. She is not afraid to say what she needs to say about you, but at the same time, it doesn’t sound judgmental. It’s constructive advice.
What was the key focus of your sessions together?
I was a little lost when I first met Maree. I wanted to see where I could direct my corporate career to help my career as a director. I’d been stagnating in my career and saw them as quite separate. She suggested integrating them so they could leverage off each other, which helped me to see my next steps so differently.
When I finished my work with Maree, Westpac went through a huge transformation and as part of that, my role became redundant in July last year. I’ve since been given secondments that have been extended. It’s been a real turning point for me. I had started on that journey to growing my career for the benefit of directorship, but then my entire department was dismantled. I was at a point where I could have chosen to stay or to reinvent myself and go external. Part of my work with Maree has really assisted with the confidence to do just that — to choose a new career path.
What did you learn as a result of undertaking the mentor program?
I learnt to back myself, which I think is relevant to a lot of women. That was the loud and clear message from Maree. Go for something that is big, hairy and scary because you more than likely can. Dare to dare! I’m daring to find a business/operations management role that works well with being a director. I’m currently half way through my AICD certification and doing the juggling act of looking for new work, studying and finding a director role. My goal is to have all three in place by the end of 2021.
Do you have any advice for people considering a mentoring relationship?
We hesitate and procrastinate so much — I certainly do. It becomes a habit and we often medicate ourselves with these distractions. Sometimes you have to just do it and you will find it’s actually not too bad. I’ve leant that fear and excitement are the exact same experience in your body, but if you frame it as excitement in your mind, it can really work for you. Make mentorship work for you. You won’t regret it.
Mentor - Maree Taylor
Maree Taylor has worked for more than 30 years in senior executive roles for global corporate conglomerates and as such, has amassed skills and expertise to the envy of her peers. Today she has a portfolio career and leads her own coaching and mentoring business, Reframe. Two years ago, Maree joined WOB’s team as a mentor in the My Mentor program and was recently partnered with mentee, Leesa Bauer.
What is your career background and history?
Since graduation day from university, I’ve been in senior human resources roles. I was Human Resources Director at Sterling Winthrop, Human Resources Director for the Asia Pacific for Apple, Head of Human Resources for Computer Science Corporation (CSC) Australia prior to CSC Europe in London, Executive General Manager for HR/HSE at Origin, Head of Human Resources for Computer Science Corporation (CSC) Australia prior to CSC Europe in London, and the Chief People and Culture Officer at NBN Australia. When I left corporate, I thought I’d never go back (never say never I tell me clients!) In 2014, I took a faithful call from a headhunter who got me at a weak moment and the next moment, I was at NBN for the next five years, which was a unique and fantastic opportunity. I’ve left the corporate world now for good and have a portfolio career. I am Non-Executive Director at the Sydney Fringe Festival and run my own consulting business.
How has your career informed your ability to mentor?
My background is technical and functional expertise around leadership and people. You can’t work in corporate that long and be successful and not have thick skin, think strategically, be pragmatic, read a team and understand the politics. Ultimately, being in senior executive roles, you need to know how to influence and get the support of your team and the Board to make change happen. I can transfer my many years of experience and support organisations and individuals with their own human resources strategies by taking into consideration the organisational culture, employee engagement, organisation design, performance, talent and succession and remuneration strategies. I’m also particularly passionate about supporting women and their careers.
When did you become a mentor with WOB and how did you become involved with WOB My Mentoring program?
I have been a member of WOB for a number of years and had completed a few courses and attended events when I saw they were looking for mentors. It was just at the right time because I was reestablishing my business after my time with NBN about two years ago.
You recently mentored Leesa Bauer as part of the WOB My Mentoring Program. Can you share how you were able to support Leesa on her journey? What was the key focus of your sessions together?
When Leesa originally signed up to the program, she ambitiously wanted to get onto a paid board role in the short to medium term, which is wonderful and admirable, but during our time together, I think I was able to help her understand that there were some more steps along the way to take in her corporate work before making that a reality. We were able to hone her executive experience and expertise through a lens of directorship to get her to a paid board position in the long term. She also recognised just how powerful and transferable her specific skillset was when looking to apply for board positions. Leesa stepped into a her first board position with a not-for-profit that she was interested in so it was a natural extension and gave her valuable experience to leverage off.
What has been your most rewarding accomplishment as a mentor?
I like to think that I have been able to help the women that I have mentored move a thought bubble into a plan and then into an action. I am very action orientated. My mentees mostly have the answers themselves — I’m certainly not coming up with any pearls of wisdom because that’s not my job — but they just haven’t transferred it into an action plan. That gives me a real sense of accomplishment. That’s what I’m about; making things happen.
What have been your greatest challenges as a mentor?
At the end of the day, the mentee will pick their own pace. Sometimes I feel like it was a pity they didn’t do their homework before our next session, but ultimately it’s up to them. It’s not my KPIs; it’s theirs. They have to work at their own pace and my role is to help them find that pace. I continue playing devil’s advocate, but that’s often a challenge for me because I like to keep things moving, keep things cracking!
How has being a mentor stretched your knowledge and capabilities?
I particularly like learning about knew industries. I thought I had covered off most of them in my career, but in the case of Leesa, this was a new industry for me. Getting the gist of the jargon is fantastic and adapting to the different dynamic excites me. You keep learning as a mentor. You witness people have an ‘aha’ moment and remind yourself to apply the same approach to yourself. That continual self-reflection is important. I’ve been really working hard at not coming up with the solution in coaching and mentoring. After 30 years in an executive career, you get used to coming up with the answer. Even though you have a big team, you are paid to have ideas and to lead. Now I read the nuances and shut up when needed, but I still need to keep working on it.
What networking advice would you provide to your mentees?
In my experience, most women don’t like networking, or they don’t think they do. They see it as false and artificial, particularly the introverts among us. My advice is for the business and corporate women who are driven by results, is to treat it like a task. Put it in your plan, diarise it as an action and commit to it monthly or bimonthly. It’s important for your career and external experience, but you also learn a lot in that kind of context. Even if you don’t like doing it, recognise its importance.
What advice do you have for those interested in becoming a mentor or mentee?
For the mentors, pay it forward, use your expertise and experience to support others, particularly women, and guess what? You’ll continue to learn yourself.For the mentees, it’s likely to be a really good way of getting the support you need to bring your ideas to fruition. Everyone needs a sounding board and someone to give you the confidence you need to take action.
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