09 Sep Meet the mentee who learnt how to foster other people’s ideas
It was at a 1950s themed diner in the US that Kanani Draper’s career began. As a fourteen-year-old she learnt from a young age that while work can have its fun days, there can also be some challenges, even then “the show must go on”.
Kanani spent five years working at this restaurant (Ruby’s), where she learned valuable skills that she still calls on today.
“I always talk about Ruby’s because it was the foundation of my interest in customer service and brand awareness, and it gave me my understanding of franchise networks, which has been core to my career,” she says.
At eighteen years old, she packed her bags and left the US for Australian soil. Like most young people starting in her career, she was a little misguided at first – and perhaps a touch naive.
After high school, Kanani thought she might like to be a nurse, but then she saw blood for the first time and realised that this wasn’t the right path for her.
So she thought she’d opt for a blood free industry: banking and finance.
“I knew someone at Suncorp and they got me an interview as a document processor in the mortgage lending division. I got the role but being young and thinking I was ‘invincible’, I didn’t have the maturity to really appreciate the opportunity I was given.
“Within one year I’d convinced myself I was set for bigger and better things. In perhaps a rash and impatient way, I left a great company like Suncorp with a blind faith that roles like that come along often.”
Although she defines these diversions as “important catalyst moments” in her career, the few years that followed were tough as she tried to find her feet again. While the initial stages of her career were somewhat of a hodgepodge, she soon realised that big corporates, and the stability they offered, was where she wanted to be.
A friend helped to secure Kanani a role with multinational Komatsu and after holding a few specialist technology and sales roles for various organisations, she joined Toyota where she now works as the State Manager for Toyota Fleet Management. To get here, she took the friendly nudge of a friend who convinced her to do her MBA.
“I didn’t think I could do that, but 18 months later I graduated with a distinction from the University of Canberra with an MBA in Innovation and Leadership.”
Nurturing the little sparks
A lot of the mentees who attend Mentor Walks are seeking the confidence to be bold or take a leap of faith. For Kanani, it was almost the opposite that she was seeking. As someone who’s always had a fire in her belly, she wanted to know how she could best help others to join in on her “the sky’s the limit” way of working.
When sharing her grand, big picture ideas with her colleagues, she says they seem excited to be involved, but there’s also an element of fear or concern.
“I am quite forward thinking, but in the corporate world I sometimes feel like a lone wolf with this way of thinking. I wanted to know how I can slow myself down to a pace where others are coming along with me so I’m not leaving them in the dust in the interest of getting things to where I see them going,” she says.
“I also wanted to seek advice on how can I get my team to have the ideas themselves.”
Her mentor Christine Peterson, Managing Director of Time Technology, helped her realise that forward thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit isn’t necessarily in everyone, and if Kanani were to dim that light in herself then her career will be unfulfilling.
“She actually opened the door to a wider network of people who have that little spark, and I’ve since been spending more time with them which has resulted in me better understanding how to articulate and foster the little spark that leads to big ideas in others, not just in myself.”
Circles of reference
Christine also left Kanani with a very valuable resource that she’s taken back to work with her called the ‘circle of reference’. Meaning that some people have bigger circles – they’ve experienced a lot, travelled far, met a variety of people, make certain mistakes etc. – and other have smaller circles of reference.
“The key for me with my staff was to find ways to expand their circle of reference and encourage them to draw parallels into their everyday work.”
“Now I talk to my team about how I want to expand their circle of reference and we actively seek ways to overlay their new experiences with the work we deliver.”
“The explanation of a circle of reference has really helped me articulate the ways for my team to be more creative in the work that they do. They need to look out of their immediate line of vision and dig deep into the edges of their circle of reference and find a way to connect the two. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s fun to try! They’ve taken it on with gusto and I can see a real change.”
What comes next?
Looking forward, there are many skills that Kanani is keen to continue polishing: delegating, resilience, curiosity and courage to name just a few.
“I hope that in 5 years I am doing something that is contributing to changing the world for the better. I have a couple of entrepreneurial ideas in my mind. Who knows? I might take a leap and build something of my own. I have a big passion for social change, and the increase in population in Africa and Asia that will impact commerce into the future, so I’d suspect that I could do something that encompasses this.”
Whatever she ends up doing, mentorship of some kind will play a key role. Borrowing a quote from author Mitch Albom in his book ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, she recalls: “As you grow, you learn more. Ageing is not just decay… it’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand that you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”
“I have always believed in the power of story. I also believe that perspective is powerful, but time is everything. These beliefs, together with my experiences – and a life that’s been touched by many mentors – has developed a resounding belief in the power of learning from people who’ve been there before. Mentoring is a way to borrow wisdom that may be beyond your years. They’re reciprocal relationships that truly highlight the value of human connection.”
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