How to make the most of your mentor

Last week saw the annual Marketing Academy Scholarship End of Year Ceremony and an opportunity for each graduating scholar to bestow an ‘Academy Award for Mentorship,’ also known as a Merlin Award, to one person of their choosing. I was absolutely delighted for the second year running to be invited up on stage to receive one of these coveted prizes alongside some great names within the industry including Amanda Mackenzie and Cilla Snowball.

Receiving this award has made me reflect on my role as a mentor and the importance for experienced Marketers in our industry to be prepared and willing to spend time with those wanting to be mentored. I have been so fortunate to see a few really promising Marketing careers take shape and feel incredibly proud to have played a small role in their development.

From our work at Brand Learning, we have created a ‘how-to list’ for leaders with a desire to be a mentor, a list that includes such suggestions as being personally involved, agreeing upfront on how the relationship will work and being a generous, open-minded listener with intent to support and motivate.

While I truly believe all of these tips are valid, I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on what makes a great mentoring relationship - because believe me that is what it becomes: a relationship. If you and your mentee are matched together as part of a formal program you won’t know if the chemistry will work when you first meet - will they appreciate your advice, do they really want to learn and grow, is there a deep trust and respect both ways? These are all essential elements of an enduring mentor relationship. Once these are in place then the sky is the limit in terms of how the relationship can unfold.

What has prompted me to further think about mentoring relationships is the chapter called ‘Are you my Mentor?’ in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, ‘Lean In’: “Mentors continue to invest when mentees use their time well and are truly open to feedback.” It struck me just how important the role of the mentee is in this relationship – just how two-way the interaction really needs to be in order to be rewarding.
So for Marketers with a desire to be mentored, here is my ‘how-to list’ for you:

  • Choose your mentor thoughtfully. If you are working outside an organised mentorship matching program, instead of asking a stranger you admire to be your mentor, ask someone you already feel a connection to – and if this connection isn’t yet established, make an effort to create it by capturing their attention through good work or social engagement
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance casually. It doesn’t have to be a ‘formal’ mentor/mentee arrangement; once a connection is established a relationship can start to take form without needing a label
  • Be focused. Come prepared for every conversation, whether it’s face-to-face or over the phone.  Being respectful of your mentor’s time means you are not vague with your observations or advice-seeking and/or cannot easily find the answer to your questions through other means
  • Be positive. The role of a mentor is not a sounding board for your professional or personal complaints
  • Be open-minded. Your mentor may ask you to explore or think about something that stretches you beyond your comfort zone. Be willing to view your career with this fresh perspective – you’d be surprised the places you could go!
  • Drive. Just because your mentor may be more experienced than you, make no mistake that you are in the driver’s seat in the relationship – make the most of your time

Establishing a strong relationship that can benefit both parties can be boundless. Whether it’s helping each other in business, bouncing ideas off each other or simply making time to support each other, a mentorship relationship can offer career and perhaps even life-changing connections.

It can be argued that in this day and age there is no limit to the sources of information and advice available to someone seeking career guidance – your twitter feed, countless blogs and TED talks – but please remember that it’s the ‘HOW’ you use this information that creates an advantage. This is where a mentor can play a role to help fast-track and steer a mentee’s experience in the right way. In other words, having a mentor can help combat against one of my favourite quotes of the moment: “Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it!” So if you are an experienced Marketer thinking about becoming a mentor, or a young Marketer with an interest in being mentored - what are you waiting for?


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s customer-centred leadership capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly on LinkedIn. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.

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