Date posted: 11/11/2020

How to be a director: learning from the inside

Mentor brings experience and the mentee a fresh perspective

In brief

  • Christopher Carey FCA gave Rhys Taylor CA the chance of a front-row seat at Lifeline WA board
  • Taylor has learnt to find the balance between being an observer and a contributor
  • Taylor has gained skills, experience and confidence that will help his career

Chris Carey FCA, deputy chair and treasurer Lifeline WA board 

I am retired and saw this as a way of giving back. All I had to do was convince the board. Fortunately, that wasn’t hard. From the board’s perspective, the mentee brings diversity and a fresh perspective, as well as knowledge of contemporary approaches to issues and problems. A fresh pair of eyes helps us to question the status quo.

The mentee needs to have the confidence to speak up when they feel they have something to contribute, even though they don’t have the experience that board members have. Their fresh perspective could be an important contribution that gains the respect of board members. 

“The mentee brings diversity and a fresh perspective, as well as knowledge of contemporary approaches to issues and problems.” 
Christopher Carey FCA

The mentor’s obligation is to make the mentee comfortable and to encourage them to be part of the conversation. This is such a good way for the mentee to get exposure and meet people outside their comfort zone. It is helpful to their career, not only in the not-for-profit area. 

One of the highlights for me is seeing these young people in action, seeing how talented they are. If there is something controversial coming up at a meeting, I will brief the mentee beforehand. But they are astute and often will not need briefing. 

Lifeline WA does not take this responsibility lightly and makes sure people are inducted properly. Sometimes the mentee will raise a point and we will think, ‘that’s a good idea’. Rhys Taylor is fortunate that Lifeline WA is well run and has a very good CEO. 

He is a very bright guy and fits in well. By the time he finishes he will have made a presentation to the board – and mentees are allowed to be critical. This exposure over nine months gives the mentee an understanding of how a board works. It increases their confidence in a situation they’ve not been in before. 

Rhys Taylor CA, team leader corporate accounting, Wesfarmers 

It was a great opportunity to gain first-hand experience and find out what it takes to be a successful board member. I wanted to find out how to leverage my skills to give back to the community and I saw an NFP as a great way to do that.It is a rare chance to observe how a board works and to build on what you’ve learnt through the institute. You have a front-row seat with people who bring a passion and commitment to the organisation and are very well credentialled. I was fortunate to be partnered with Lifeline WA, especially during COVID-19.

Some things were disrupted early on but we were exposed to a lot more because of the challenges brought by COVID. The biggest challenge for me was finding the balance between being an observer and a contributor. To get the most out of the program, you need to contribute but also to think about the right time to say something and, strategically, how a board member would approach the same question. 

The highlight was working with the board but, more importantly, the relationship I’ve formed with Chris and what I’ve learnt from him.
Rhys Taylor CA

He’s been very easy to get along with, has included me in discussions that have happened outside board meetings, encouraged me to contribute, and let me know of agenda items to look out for. Chris has made a significant contribution to how much I’ve enjoyed the program – his knowledge and experience. The program has given me greater insight into how successful boards work and what they’re looking for. It has enhanced my skills and I come away thinking differently about problems.

Being a mentee is a great opportunity to understand how I can contribute to a not-for-profit organisation in the future. And to realise that the skills I have are valuable to an organisation like Lifeline. 

Not-for-profit Board Experience Program

Establish a rewarding new relationship and boost your skills and experience at any stage of your career.

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