You Own Your Own Career – Here’s the Best Way to Take Control of It

As told by Xero MD, Trent Innes


Kick Start Smart Brisbane began with four simple but strong words: ‘YOU. OWN. YOUR. CAREER’.

The adage was delivered by Xero’s Managing Director Trent Innes, a self-confessed non-entrepreneur, but by all means a clear intrapreneur, who decided a long time ago to never wear a suit again (except for Financial Review photos).

When he started at Xero three and a half years ago there were 35 staff members–now, Australia’s team totals nearly 300. All of whom he has interviewed personally and will continue to do for as long as possible. By the time candidates get to the final stage of meeting Trent, he’s less interested in discussing the job and more interested in conducting a character study that will uncover goals, dreams, aspirations and most of all, attitude.

So as someone who has interviewed around 600 people in his lifetime, he is pretty expertly placed to deliver career advice to our eager audience, having launched, shaped and overseen the success of many.

The first myth Trent dispels? “A nine-step plan to be successful doesn’t exist. It’s hard work.”

But, and it’s a big but…hard work can be made that much easier with an underlying purpose and a great mentor. This is his biggest advice of all. “Find [a mentor], and soon,” he suggests, while also expressing his wish for engaging his own mentors much earlier in life. Here are our biggest takeaways from Trent’s inspiring session on the importance of securing a mentor.

Firstly, why is mentoring important?

You might not know exactly how important a mentor can be. When you look into the data, it’s hard to ignore. If you’ve got a supportive mentor on your side, you’re three times more likely to become a top performer, five times more likely to get promoted and 20% more likely to get a pay rise. And that’s reason alone.

What are the characteristics of a good mentor?

“They’re a real role model.” This may seem obvious but it’s also fundamental to your success with a mentor/mentee relationship. Your mentor should be someone you inherently respect and look up to, and not just someone who’s where you want to be. It isn’t just the job they occupy, it’s how they occupy it that you should be most attracted by.

“They have the ability to inspire and motivate.” No mentor is going to push you to greater heights if they don’t have some understanding of what motivates and inspires you. They’ve got to be just as invested in your success as you.

“They’re a good listener and easy to talk to.” You’ll need to be able to trust and confide in your mentor in order to be able to truly move forward. Sometimes you’ll be making tough decisions and you’ll want your mentor to be understanding and not feel intimidating. They’ll also know what kinds of questions to ask (and be able to give you the space to answer them honestly).

“They shares your values and have a sense of purpose.” If your mentor is the type of leader you don’t fancy yourself being, you’ll end up butting heads on almost any encounters. Make sure your mentor is the type of person that you relate to and understand–you want to be heading in the same direction, not pulling in opposite ways all the time.

Remember: good leaders have one common trait – they’re vulnerable. That vulnerability and empathy is what takes them further in their careers and what will be able to take you there too. 

But how do you find one–and keep one?

First of all, it’s important you know exactly what you’re looking for and what you’d like to achieve with your mentor, Trent stresses. Do you want a sounding board? Someone to give you industry insight? Both? Outline these things clearly so neither of you are in the dark. Also, it’s important to remember what the relationship is and isn’t. Your mentor isn’t your mother – it’s not up to them to baby you through decisions and work – they’re there to guide you but ultimately, stand as a silent partner. And don’t forget, it needs to be a two-way street. If it’s just you taking from your mentor, the relationship isn’t likely to last long. “It takes time, effort and commitment” says Trent, so make sure you’re up for the challenge.

And what’s the best way to secure one? “Just ask” is his straightforward advice. “A lot of people in leadership roles don’t like email. Find them on social. But there’s a fine line between persistence and stalking.”

If you want to connect with* (*stalk) Trent, you can find him talking tech, business and people development over here.

Hear from more inspiring speakers at our upcoming Kick. Start. Smart events in Sydney (7/10) and Melbourne (25/11).

Live sketch by Dyan Burgess. See more of her awesome work from the day in Issue 37. 


Jac Phillips

Great advice, thank you for sharing. I have found a “personal board of advisors” to be even more effective than just 1 person. It requires diversity of skills, experience and networks to be successful.

Tessa Sexton

Great tips on what makes a good mentor, thanks. When looking for the right one – think about someone who will test, challenge and stretch you, not just someone who is exactly like you. Gaining a fresh perspective is important. To find one – absolutely ask and remember it’s a reciprocal relationship so think about what you can offer them too. If you don’t know the right person, there are companies (such as mine!) that can help.


We would love to hear your thoughts:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *