“Be curious and be hungry to learn” - YWLC Mentor Ms Chong Siak Ching shares her valuable advice for
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Ms Chong Siak Ching, Chief Executive Officer, National Gallery Singapore, and Kelley Wong, Associate, Lee & Lee, is another of our mentor-mentee pairs under YWLC’s Mentorship Programme 2019. In this exclusive interview, they share how their mentor-mentee relationship evolved over the course of the Mentorship Programme, and the importance of keeping an open mind to allow both mentor and mentee to learn from each other in this journey.
How would you describe the mentorship style that you both have built, and how does that play out in your mentor-mentee interactions and relationship?
Siak Ching: My approach has been to let the mentees shape our conversations, according to their needs. Kelley was focused in wanting to find out more about growing herself and her career, but was also very open to new experiences and exposure. Our conversations have steered into art, and life in general.
Kelley: Over the past 9 months, Siak Ching has been like a counsellor and advisor to me. While there is no fixed agenda for our meetings, she would usually prompt me to reflect on the latest happenings in my life and provide thoughtful suggestions on things weighing on my mind. Of course, our conversations are not always so serious and we would also catch up on things like our holiday travel plans - until the COVID-19 pandemic happened and became the centre of attention!
How has the mentorship experience shaped or impacted you, whether personally and/or professionally?
Siak Ching: The mentorship experience has always been a two-way street, and I find myself learning from my mentees, for example, having a better understanding of the challenges that they face in their work at their current phase of their career, which helps me empathise and be better able to help my fellow colleagues address their challenges. I also like to hear their thoughts about current issues and their perspective of the world.
Kelley: I think the opportunity to talk through my concerns with Siak Ching, and to hear her opinion, has been very helpful for me to better organise these thoughts and understand how I can move forward from there, whether through a change of mindset or by taking certain active steps towards a goal. Overall, this experience has taught me to be more conscious and reflective, particularly in my professional career. This is also something that I really admire about Siak Ching – her careful consideration in making decisions.
Do you have any words of advice for new mentees (or even mentors) who will be part of this new cycle of the Mentorship Programme?
Siak Ching: It is definitely time well-invested, and the most meaningful journey. I believe that what you take out of this relationship depends on how much you put into it as well.
Kelley: Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts or ask any questions of your mentor. Come with an open and inquisitive mind to learn from and exchange ideas with your mentor.
Siak Ching on her experiences as a mentor, and thoughts on mentoring in general
Do you have a mentor in your life?
My mentors have been “adopted” by me along my life’s journey. Most of them are my current bosses or ex-bosses, whom knowingly or unknowingly have been planting seeds of wisdom or ideas for me to think about during our interactions.
Could you share with us your most memorable experience as a mentor with the Mentorship Programme?
Each has its unique moments and for Kelley, I would say that this is yet to come as I look forward to what will be my most memorable experience (I am sure) – we are planning drinks in her friend’s bar, for her to share with me the social life of her generation and the entrepreneurial spirit of our young.
At the end of 2019, I gathered my past and current mentees together for a tour of the Singapore Biennale, followed by drinks to talk about our “personal mission statements”. It was inspiring for me to hear the variety of thoughts and aspirations from them.
What advice do you have for mentees who are meeting their mentors for the first time?
Share what you would like to achieve out of the mentorship relationship. It is alright not to have a set agenda or purpose, as I believe that the interactions along the way will open up your thoughts and present new possibilities and ideas to further the relationship.
Being a leader in your industry, what advice would you like to share with young women who would like to excel in your industry?
Be curious and be hungry to learn … from everyone and everywhere! But, don’t forget to give too: your time, resources, and opinions. All of these matter.
What is the one word that you would use to sum up your advice?
Kelley on her experiences as a mentee
How did you decide on your chosen mentor?
The legal industry is typically quite insular in nature, especially for my area of practice - litigation and dispute resolution. I was thus looking for a fresh perspective from someone from a different industry, but with some experience in the corporate world. Siak Ching was a natural choice given her background; coincidentally, I had also heard her opening address at my first YWLC event back in 2017 (the flagship International Women’s Day celebration) and formed a fond impression of her since then.
How did you prepare yourself before your first meeting with your mentor?
There wasn’t any particular preparation involved, but I did conduct a personal stock-take of where I was at in life and where I hoped to be in future, which then helped me formulate the questions I had for Siak Ching on how she made certain decisions in her own journey.
Having experienced the Mentorship Programme as a mentee and the valuable experiences and learnings that you have taken away from it, how would you like to ‘pay it forward’?
Being quite heavily involved in YWLC, I would love to share my learnings with fellow members through an organic peer mentoring session where possible. Feel free to reach out if you would like to have a chat!
Interview has been edited for clarity.