ITL #483 A baker’s dozen: lessons about mentoring and mentorship10 months, 1 week ago
Mentorship can be hugely beneficial and there should be much more of it within PR. To get the most out of it, mentors and mentees must follow some important ground rules. By Ken Jacobs.
I’ve been vocal about the fact that the public relations industry needs to focus more on helping our senior communications executives not only be great practitioners of the art and science of PR and masterful managers of programs and processes, but become inspired leaders of the most valuable asset of their organization: its people.
In my experience in the field, I’ve observed that it’s never too early to give PR professionals the chance to hone their leadership skills, to apply their leadership energy, and ultimately use their influence, to drive desired outcomes for the organization, its stakeholders, its clients, and its teams.
I believe that’s true whether one is employed at an agency, on the corporate side, at a non-profit or government entity, in internal communications, or higher education. Leadership is category-agnostic.
One way to accelerate everyone’s leadership journey, whether they’re a newer practitioner or a mid-level manager is by offering mentoring.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years from being a mentor for a number of public relations organizations:
- It’s never too early to get a mentor. Mentors can play a role in our getting it right, right outside of the gate. One should learn if our organization has a formal mentoring program as early as possible, during the interview process or one’s negotiations to join a company, during one’s onboarding, or as soon thereafter.
- Bosses can’t be mentors to those who report to them. For mentorship programs to be effective, the mentor cannot be one’s boss, or one’s boss’s boss. “Mentees” must be able to speak with their mentor in full candor, and that’s impossible if they’re part of the chain of command. In addition, bosses can’t effectively mentor those they lead, because the boss is “part of the story.” Finally, a mentee can’t ask their boss/mentor what to do if they’re having issues with their boss. But they can get valuable guidance on that critical topic if they’re being mentored by an executive outside of their department
- Even for a PR pro, mentorship isn’t about PR skills. There are countless ways one can learn to grow one’s skills as a practitioner. In my view, mentorship is most effective and should be used when it focuses on the “soft” skills of listening, empathy, communications, collaboration, leading people, and how to have potentially challenging.
- There are options, even if a company doesn’t have a formal mentoring program. If you want mentoring but your company doesn’t offer it there are still two ways to be mentored: 1) Observe the people in your company who are great leaders, who have influence, and who have a positive energy, and ask them to mentor you informally; 2) Reach out to communications organizations. Many of them offer mentoring programs.
- Everyone benefits from a mentor, regardless of level: While many organizations offer mentoring programs for newer employees, the reality is we all benefit from having a sounding board and an advisor as we progress in our careers. So while managers can mentor new professionals, leaders can mentor managers, and “uber” leaders can mentor leaders. There’s always a more seasoned professional who can provide mentoring, even the mentor is officially retired.
- Organizations benefit from a culture of mentoring: If an organization benefits from having one person being mentored, just imagine the benefits if it creates a culture of mentoring. Mentoring is one of those employee benefits which costs little-to-nothing, yet drives tremendous ROI.
- Being a good mentor, recommendation #1: Just as in executive coaching, to be an effective mentor, the mentor must provide a judgement-free zone. If a mentor finds themselves judging, and can catch and correct, they’ll be fine. If they find themselves constantly judging their mentee, they need to consider if this is the optimal mentor-mentee relationship or if mentoring is right for them.
- Being a good mentor, recommendation #2: Effective leaders know that they should tell less and ask more open-ended, empowering questions. Doing so literally lights up the brain of the person they’re leading, and it lights up the part of the brain where creativity, action, engagement and commitment live. That’s the part of the brain that mentors want to light up in their mentees.
- being a good mentor, recommendation #3: To be an effective mentor, you must create a safe space for your mentee. They must be able to feel vulnerable, and to share honestly. That starts with the mentor.
- Being a good mentee, recommendation #1: Show Up! Start by always being on time for mentoring sessions. Cancel only if you have a true work emergency, and your boss insists that you postpone your mentoring session. Be authentic in all your dealings with your mentor. Don’t hold back. Your mentor can only give you good counsel if you’re 100% honest about what’s going on in your work world, and if you’re 100% authentically you.
- Being a good mentee, recommendation #2: Be Prepared: Have an agenda. Know not only what you want to discuss during each mentoring session, but the outcome or results that you want from it. What do you want to have by the end of the call that you don’t have at the start?
- Being a good mentee, recommendation #3: Be Respectful. Be respectful of your mentor’s time. As mentioned in #9, not only be on time for your call, but be responsible for winding it down five minutes before its end, and ending it on time. Be respectful of your mentor’s experience. It’s that experience that got them to where they are today. Know that you don’t have to follow all their advice. In addition you don’t have to tell them why you disagree with some of their advice if that’s the case: Treat their advice as you would a multi-part birthday present: Thank them for what they’ve given you, and keep of it what you want.
- Being A Good Mentee, Recommendation #4: Be Honest: If the mentoring style being employed isn’t working for you, don’t critique, but do share what you need from your mentor in the future.
Ken Jacobs, PCC, CPC
Ken Jacobs, PCC, CPC, is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, which empowers PR leaders and executives to breakthrough results via executive coaching, and helps communications agencies achieve their business development, profitability, and client service goals, via consulting and training.mail the author
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