‘Dream bigger’ – the power of a mentor

“Dream bigger. You can do more.”

“Take a risk. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“If oatmeal is good for your kids for breakfast, then it’s good for dinner, too.”

This advice was passed on to rising leader Clare Steele by Melissa Lipsett.

Today both Clare and Melissa are CEOs of Christian social justice organizations – Melissa runs Baptist World Aid Australia while Clare runs Compassion Australia.

One of the reasons Clare ended up in this position is Melissa’s influence as a mentor.

Melissa played a key role in encouraging Clare to take the first step into organizational leadership while Clare worked for Anglican Deaconess Ministries (ADM), a Christian women’s foundation in Sydney.

“Melissa and I met while I was working at ADM. I started installing some computer systems there,” Clare says of the latest episode of eternity‘S Run like a woman podcast.

“When I got the position of Chief Operating Officer at ADM, part of it was Melissa saying to me, ‘There’s more. You can do more and dream more. How do you want to use your gifts and abilities?’”

“I love learning new things that will help you solve a problem better.” – Klara Steele

For Clare, who studied engineering at university, her gifts and skills lie in problem solving. And since becoming Compassion Australia’s CEO in January 2020, she now uses those skills to help tackle some of the “most complex and huge problems” the world faces – those caused by poverty and injustice.

“I love learning new things that will help you solve a problem better and bringing people with different voices together to solve the problem in the best possible way,” says Clare.

“…So that’s what I love about my role. Now it’s not just bringing together the voices of the people of Australia. It’s about hearing from children living in poverty what their dreams are.”

Melissa points to the influence mentors have had on her own life and career.

“Mentors have helped me tremendously. I’ve always had mentors,” she says.

Melissa left her childhood home in the country of Victoria at the age of 17 and “ran away” to join the Royal Australian Navy. There she came to faith in God after a Navy chaplain “convinced me that I wasn’t who I thought I was, but I was who God said I was. It was a revelation,” she says. “It changed my life and has continued to change it ever since.”

“It takes a humility to say I have a lot to learn.” – Melissa Lipsett

Another “amazing man” later called Melissa into Church service.

“I fell into pastoral care. It certainly wasn’t what I intended. It was truly an amazing man who was my mentor for over 20 years, who called out what he saw as the gifts and graces in me for pastoral ministry… He was incredibly important in my life,” she recounts.

After almost two decades as executive minister of Queensland’s Newlife Uniting Church, Melissa served as chief operating officer at the Bible Society Australia for nine years before joining Baptist World Aid, where she became CEO in November 2021.

In later years, Melissa says she had a number of other mentors. And even now, with all her leadership experience, she still actively seeks mentoring relationships.

“Just recently I approached someone and asked them to mentor me in this role. Someone who has fulfilled such a role, who knows the industry better than I do and frankly has more experience than me.”

She adds: “I think it takes a certain humility to say I still have a lot to learn. If someone says I have nothing more to learn, I would be really concerned for that person.”

“Even now I have a coach…to make sure I lead from humility and confidence.” – Klara Steele

Clare agrees that humility and self-awareness are two key components that mentoring—and in Clare’s experience, coaching—provides relationships for leaders.

“When I was with Anglican Diaconess Ministries for a year, I had an amazing experience being coached by an amazing woman,” says Clare.

“I had 26 sessions of 45 minutes with her. She didn’t answer a single question I asked her! But every week I had to think about my life and my work and whether I had achieved what I wanted to do…

“And that just gave me the space to really travel for a year with another woman who would encourage me to think more deeply about or even question some of the narratives I had in my head about myself.

“So I found the coaching relationship really important. And even now I have a coach in my role who asks me similarly difficult questions just to really reflect and evaluate and make sure I’m leading from humility and confidence.”

“Melissa always said, ‘Take a risk. What’s the worst that can happen?’” – Clare Steele

Encouragement from Melissa and other mentors has also enabled Clare to boldly answer God’s call for her life, she says.

“There is statistics showing that a woman will not apply for a position unless she can demonstrate that she can do 100 percent of the role. That’s how I’ve lived my life,” Clare admits.

“I am very low risk. And so Melissa’s encouragement, and encouraging others to take risks, was really important…

“Just letting other people say, ‘Actually, what you do is bigger than you think and your potential is bigger than you think. To take a risk.’

“Melissa always said, ‘Take a risk. What’s the worst that can happen? They get a no, and that’s really not that bad.’ So that was part of my learning.”

Sharing the wisdom she has learned from others, Clare adds, “As Christians, we know the end of our story. We know that Jesus is coming back, that he is bringing a new creation, and we are a part of it. This is your story, it is written.

“So the rest of the story isn’t that important. You can take a risk, you can fail because you know he’s coming back and you know the world will be new again. So what risks can I take today for His kingdom and people? These steps may feel really scary to me, but overall they don’t have to be.”

Season 1 of Run like a woman has launched on the Eternity Podcast Network – subscribe today!

Listen to episode 7 of Run like a woman – “Give the Girl a Hand: Leadership & Mentoring” via the following link:

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