My Mentor Shaped Me and My Business

By Aaron Fuller, President of Shiftlock, Australia


I Had a Dream in My Heart, But Was Searching in the Dark

It was early 2009. I was passionately challenging myself to embed sustainability into my life and work. I wanted to start my own business or find a job in which sustainability was paramount. It was a struggle: so much to learn, lots I had to do, but yet I was unsure of how and what I needed to do to attain my dream. I had plenty of experience, but I’d never started my own company before. I was pushed to attend to a unique “world café” event in Sydney by a recruiter who realised he couldn’t find the right job for me, but thought I’d get value out of that event. The word cafe seemed like a simple enough concept: eat, drink and talk about stuff for a few hours with a bunch of people I had never met before. No problem.

As the evening started, a tall guy was introduced. He commanded attention and respect from the start. With a heavy Zimbabwean accent, standing about 6 foot 6, flashing a big smile for everyone present, I found it easy to tune in. I was all ears.

He started talking with words that were familiar, but which were strung together in ways that felt foreign to me. I felt like I knew what he was saying, but somehow I couldn’t understand a word of it at the same time. His name was David Hodes, and he was talking about Otto Sharma’s ‘TheoryU”.  (http://www.ottoscharmer.com)

This presentation was like running in a marathon: it took loads of concentration and focus, it was a bit confronting, but the experience was altogether good for me. The concept of Theory U summed up the complexities that many Australian organisations were having with the challenge to become truly sustainable. I was hooked. I had discovered the man I wanted for my mentor. I knew I had to get to know David better.


Why Mentoring?

I asked David to be my mentor after being prompted to start a mentoring experience while in a leadership program provided by the Centre For Sustainability Leadership (www.csl.org.au). In this program, 50 Australians are chosen from among thousands of applicants across the country to take part in a nine-month fellowship that nurtures them into the next generation of sustainability-minded leaders. It was a perfect next step for me.

Part of the program is one-to-one mentoring with business and life coaching. Through these experiences, I discovered the power of mentoring in a very personal and meaningful way. We experienced three retreats in remote locations, weekly classes and used an online learning portal that provided the tools we needed to become more courageous leaders.


The Initial Mentoring Meeting

Fast forward three months, It was my first scheduled meeting with David, my mentor. We had agreed to meet at the café in the Botanical Garden in Sydney at 1pm. Wanting to make a bad impression, I left work earlier than needed to get to the café on time.

Here I was, waiting at a café. Ten minutes past, and there was no David. I was anxiously trying to look calm, but not doing a good job of it. Then my phone rang. “Aaron, where are you?” David asked, in his thick, easily recognisable accent. I was caught by surprise because I was expecting him to say he was running late and would be there soon. “I’m here. Where are you?” I asked. We both learned there were two cafes in the Botanical Gardens, and quickly agreed on the one to use.

David and I must have walked and talked for almost three hours without a breather. It was our first mentoring meeting but it felt like two old friends reuniting. Even though it was our a structured relationship, because of David’s style, mentoring felt very relaxed. It was the tail end of summer; a perfect day for taking a walk around the gardens, with Sydney Harbour standing like an open oasis before us.


Initial Insights

The mix-up about our meeting point was a good sign of the style of relationship we’d end up having.

  • We both realized that we can’t get into a mentor/mentee relationship with any preconceived ideas about where it was starting, where it would go, or the distance that the journey would take us.
  • It reminded us, from the start, that neither of us was right or wrong. We had each naturally gone a place dictated by our own understanding of our environment and past experiences.
  • It showed us that it can take a unique relationship, like the one between mentor and mentee, to see old experiences in new ways.

Our Mentoring Approach

At this point, David has been my mentor for just over a year. We make it a habit to meet at the same café) and we enjoy our walks. We never set an agenda and can cover one subject over two hours or 100 topics in just one hour.

As my mentor, David played a massive role in my development during the Sustainability Leadership course. He also became a good mate; one who I could bounce issues off of, discuss challenges and ideas with, as long as I was open to honest and constructive feedback.


Realizing my Dream – Using My Experiences

Following the CSL program, with David’s support and ideas, and making use of my background in marketing, sales and analytics, I launched my new business, Shiftlock, in 2010 (www.shiftlock.com.au). I incorporated elements that had been essential in my own development. I KNEW that what was critical for me would be valuable for others too.

I have defined Shiftlock as a niche recruitment agency that focuses on data, business intelligence, and analytics roles in the Sydney market. We find and place top talent. But uniquely, we also provide each successful candidate with a 12 month leadership experience called the Shiftlock Leadership Program (SLP). It provides every Shiftlock analyst with the grooming, tools, and support to become the best version of themselves that they can be. This is such a simple proposition, but not a responsibility that traditional recruiters have ever felt.

The SLP is made up of regular executive coaching, mentoring, monthly community events with speakers in the industry and online resources to provide the support for courageous leadership in the participants’ new analytics role.

My background in analytics and business intelligence helped me see the analytics aspect of an organisation as the place where good decisions are made or not made, and good ideas masterminded or overlooked prematurely. Our placements often arrive in this environment with little internal support for surviving in the situation, yet the need to make significant contributions to the challenge. The SLP and our mentoring fits this critical place perfectly because people have a lot to learn, especially about how to transform raw information into meaningful, actionable plans.

When our placements arrive and make immediate, significant contributions, they stand out as leaders with potential. Since I believe that providing people in the knowledge game (data and analysis) with the courage, skills, and suppor to act sustainably, our placements also are prepared to make an even greater contribution, and we are creating a better future for all.


Now – I Want to Learn More – I Want to Give Back

My very positive experience with mentoring and our continued use of it with others is what drew me to IMA. The power and relevance of mentoring for every one of us is a unique and priceless experience. It’s a relationship based on wisdom, which is desperately missing in a world where those who lead our corporations and countries often don’t inspire us to be all that we can be.

To my mentor David, and all the other mentors out there, thanks.

If you continue to have an open heart and mind, I can guarantee that you’ll change the world.


Aaron Fuller is a new member of IMA. He is the President of Shiftlock, Australia –  aaron@shiftlock.com.au  –  – www.shiftock.com.au