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Mentoring Matters: Finding Your Yoda

Isabel Duffy, Principal, Northrop Consulting Engineers; Director, Tomorrow's Women in Construction

Most leaders credit their mentors with a huge amount of their personal and professional development – but how do you get one, and how do you make the most of them?  


I used to think a mentor was like a professional guardian angel – a trusted advisor you could speak to about all aspects of your career who would be by your side throughout. My real experience has been more similar to a series of advisors, coming and going through my career to help me through particular issues, with varying levels of regularity and formality. Some have been ‘Jiminy Crickets’, providing a kind ear and general guidance, and others more career ‘Yodas’, helping me make significant decisions.  


How did I find my mentors? 

  1. Through work. Asking a senior colleague if we could grab a coffee once every couple of months to chat about my career, putting it in the diary and making the relentless effort to reschedule and come to each catch-up with specific questions  

  2. Through networking. Being a woman in construction can be lonely – but the silver lining is that women are usually very eager to help one another. Meeting another woman at a networking event can easily lead to 'I've really enjoyed chatting, and I'd love to hear more about how you developed that skill/took on that role/dealt with that challenge – could we grab a coffee next week'. Bring energy and enthusiasm!  

  3. Through my network. Asking a well-networked senior colleague if they know anyone who would be able to help me with learning more about specific challenges like being a company director/getting a good career coach/dealing with a certain type of client has led to some amazing introductions.  


Once you’ve found your Yoda, here are my tips for making the most out of your mentoring journey.  


  • Getting from Meeting to Mentor – start by picking their brains and experience in an area relevant to your career development. Most people want to be helpful and will respond well if you ask for a follow-up. Give it a few meetings to make sure you click and their experience is relevant before proposing a mentoring relationship. I have had many mentors where this title hasn’t been acknowledged and the relationship has stayed casual, meeting on an ad-hoc basis when I need some advice – and that’s fine too.  

  • Getting real outcomes – define specific areas you want to work on that align with their skillset and drive your own accountability. Take a record of your notes and share them with your mentor to prompt action. For example – perhaps you want to build a broader network. Which events are you going to between mentoring catch-ups? How did they go; what did you struggle with? Agree what you’re going to try and tackle between catch-ups.  


Finally – don’t be limited by what you think a ‘mentor’ should look like. I’ve learnt a huge amount about being a better leader from people more junior than me, people from diverse backgrounds, and people I’m only able to catch up with once or twice a year. And don’t forget to pay it forward. No matter your career stage, there’s someone who would benefit hugely from your mentorship too.  


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