When I was 18 and finishing my first year of university, I wanted a summer job that would look good on a resume. My search led me to the opportunity to run a student painting business, and for reasons, unbeknownst to me, I was able to start a painting business when I had never painted anything in my life.
During the first job of the summer, I had to scale a three-story bed and breakfast to paint a high peak. After climbing a 30-foot ladder, I scrambled up a steep roof. Upon reaching the peak, I realized it was too steep to get back down without sliding off the rooftop.
I was stuck. An 18-year-old kid, convinced he could run a painting business, was trapped on a roof during the first house he’d ever painted.
Is it important to have a mentor?
In situations where we feel like we’re stuck, we need people in our lives that we can call to ask for help. Mentors are those people. They come to us with the experience that we lack and provide the guidance we need. We can all remember mentors that gave us the advice or helping hand that led us to where we are now.
When stuck on that cursed roof, If I didn’t have a mentor at the time to call, I may still be trapped there. When frantically calling my mentor, they calmly helped me find a different part of the roof that was less steep and then have my painters move the ladder there so I could get down. Problem solved. Thanks to my mentor, I was able to paint many more homes that summer, always cognizant of the roof’s pitch.
As a marketing leader, you may be considering sharing what you’ve gained throughout your career with the next generation. This article will convince you that you absolutely should. Being a mentor is a win-win situation. It’s the right thing to do and, if done right, you, your mentee, and your organizations stand to benefit from the experience.
Why leaders should be mentors
Marketing leaders should be mentors because they stand to gain just as much as the mentee. First, mentoring a junior marketer is an opportunity for you to strengthen the skills essential to leaders. Additionally, the responsibility to support your mentee keeps you accountable to live up to the qualities that good mentors should have.
Let’s first look at how mentoring helps you develop leadership skills.
Mentoring helps develop leadership skills
From marketers who practice mentoring, they admit that they feel like they’re learning just as much, if not more, than their mentee. I went to marketing Twitter to learn this.
Calling all marketing leaders: Are you a mentor? I want to know what you stand to gain from helping the next generation of marketers.
Let me know in the thread! 🧵
— Ryan Carruthers (@ryancarr678) May 12, 2021
Vikas Kalwani, a two-time founder and that now actively mentors startups at 500.co, the most active global venture capital firm, shared that mentoring others kept him sharp.
“Being a marketing mentor has been quite rewarding for me. During 1:1 mentoring sessions, I get asked so many marketing and growth-related questions. It’s a great exercise for my brain.”
I get asked many questions & I got to reply within seconds. It’s a great exercise for my brain – to start thinking as soon as they start speaking. Being a mentor is also rewarding career-wise – better opportunities + better chances of converting them
– VK, Mentor at 500 Startups
— Vikas Kalwani (@grwth_hackr) May 12, 2021
Dominic Kent, the founder of UC Marketing, shared that mentoring other marketers (me being one of them) reveals his blind spots.
“In my mentoring group, I get asked questions that I think I know the answer to. It turns out I don’t & the process of helping others helps me just as much. For the things I know off the top of my head, turning them into comprehensive and helpful steps makes me a better…everything.”
In my mentoring group, I get asked questions that I think I know the answer to. Turns out I don’t & the process of helping others helps me just as much.
For the things I know off the top of my head, turning them into comprehensive and helpful steps makes me a better..everything.
— Dominic Kent (@DomKent) May 12, 2021
Teaching someone something is sometimes the best way to teach yourself or reveal that you didn’t know it as well as you thought. For example, consider the Feynman Learning Technique, where you simplify your knowledge to the point that a child could understand it.
Albert Einstein reaffirms Feyman’s learning technique by saying that “if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
Leaders can learn the qualities of a good mentor
Being a mentor forces leaders to practice qualities that we expect all leaders to have. It holds them accountable. Some of the signs of a good mentor include:
- Motivation towards their own career
- Communication skills
- They enjoy learning
- They’re a team player
- They’re committed to helping others realize their potential; and,
- They have a positive attitude
I’ve listed the qualities of a good mentor so you can identify if you fit the bill. Being a mentor is an opportunity to practice these qualities actively. We’d all like to think that we have these qualities as leaders, but when a mentoring relationship is an opportunity to practice them.
The effect marketing leaders can have on junior marketers
Hiba Amin, Senior Marketing Manager at Soapbox shares that being a marketing mentor is giving back to the community of marketers.
“I approach mentoring with the mindset of giving back. Throughout my career, I’ve learned from some of the best marketers in my own tech ecosystem. Being able to take all that you’ve learned from your own experiences and from others and give that same experience to another individual just means that you’re giving back to our field. By nature, marketing teams are collaborative, and so it’s only natural that knowledge sharing across the industry should be collaborative too!
From the beginning of my career, I’ve never been shy about reaching out to strangers who I’ve admired from afar. As a result, I’ve been able to connect with people who I absolutely adore. Beyond building meaningful connections, learning from my network has helped me accelerate my own career growth and trajectory. It’s also offered me an outlet to continuously build confidence in myself and my abilities as a marketer throughout the years. I’m no stranger to imposter syndrome and neither are junior marketers. Junior marketers can learn how to update a blog from a piece of content they read on the internet. But, learning how to believe in themselves… to trust themselves… that comes with great mentorship.”
Can anyone be a mentor?
Not everyone is cut out to be a mentor. Likewise, leaders shouldn’t mentor who they manage because it can be a conflict of interest, and the purpose of each role differs. For that reason, know the difference between a manager a mentor and if you’re right for the job.
Qualifications of mentor
There are basic qualifications that mentors should meet that will enable them to be good mentors. The mentor should:
- Be at least two years senior to the mentee if not more
- Be in a position or career path that the mentee wants to pursue, or have a role that interests them
- Not be a direct manager or director of a department that the mentee is in
- Be in a similar time zone to make meeting convenient for both parties; and,
- Not be in a position that may lead to a conflict of interest between the mentor and mentee
These parameters are useful to help leaders to understand who they should mentor or if they’re right for a mentee who’s shown interest in learning from them.
What is the difference between a mentor and a manager?
Mentors and managers may seem synonymous, but they are fundamentally different.
- Provides guidance; There are so many different paths a career in marketing can take you. A mentor can guide junior marketers to finding new, expanding marketing opportunities and help them in making that transition.
- Concentrates on the mentee’s development based on their career aspiration; For example, a marketing leader who isn’t a direct manager doesn’t have a direct incentive to increase their mentee’s performance. Instead, the mentor can help them work towards their goals regardless of how that affects their current position.
- Mutually beneficial to both the mentor and mentee; We’ve covered this already, but a manager isn’t there to grow; a mentor is. So, for example, the junior marketer can provide feedback to you as their mentor on how to listen more before jumping into problem-solving.
- Assesses and improves an individual’s performance; The dreaded performance review has no place in a mentoring relationship. But a manager is there to increase the productivity of their subordinates.
- Disproportionately benefits the person being managed; The manager surely has their own goals, but they shouldn’t put that on their team. The mangers job is to help their team get better and more efficient. The growth they get out of it is a bonus.
- The manager drives the relationship; Where a mentee can direct the relationship with their mentor based on what they want to learn, in a manager/employee situation, a manager makes that decision.
How to become a mentor
If mentoring another marketer for the first time, don’t be intimidated. Here’s how to make your first meeting set the tone for a fruitful relationship.
Making your first meeting count as a first-time mentor
Mentoring can bring to mind images of Karate Kid and Mr. Miyagi, or Luke Skywalker and Yoda. These images can make us, as mentors, feel like we have large shoes to fill (or small ones if you’re thinking about Yoda.) Here’s how to set the tone for success in your first meeting.
- Watch Celeste Headlee, an American radio journalist share 10 ways to have better conversations with your mentor or mentee.
- Review their LinkedIn profile: Does anything stand out? Bring them to your conversation and let that get a deeper discussion going.
- Cover the basics: There’s no need to jump into all their goals and aspiration right away. Get to know them first.
- Ask good questions: After you’re more comfortable around them and the basics are covered, ask them questions like:
- What would you like to improve on through mentorship?
- What is your next big challenge?
- What do you hope to accomplish in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years?
- Ask about personal interests that intrigued you.
- Schedule a regular cadence to meet: If you don’t commit to a time you meet each week or month, you’ll both struggle to stay committed.
Why would an organization care about mentorship?
As a leader, you may realize that the benefits that mentorship provides are exponentially greater than the cost. There’s a clear ROI that may make you wonder why companies everywhere don’t start formal mentoring programs. There’s a misleading belief that mentorship should be an organic relationship that happens on its own.
Matthew Reeves and Nathan Goldstein, the founders of Together and where I work, spoke with dozens of executives and HR leaders when building software to help them run their mentorship programs.
In their article explaining how learning at work is broken, they say,
“Every company we spoke to admitted that their employees were asking for better mentorship opportunities. However, some HR leaders, managers, and even employees told us that mentorship is an organic thing that can’t be forced.”
In actual fact, building mentorship into an organization leads to many improvements in metrics like retention and engagement. Along with the benefits, there are different use cases for mentoring programs. Diversity and inclusion initiatives are a great example that Erin Balsa from The Predictive Index captures when she says,
“I’m white. I’m cisgender. I live a short train ride away from Boston. I’ve never struggled to get a job. People have always given me a chance. I recognize my privilege. I’ve mentored new writers and new content marketers from around the world for the past 3-4 years because they deserve a chance too.”
And if you need any more convincing that mentorship helps you as a leader as much as it helps your mentee, Brett McGrath, podcast host and VP of Marketing at The Juice, summarizes this article when he says,
“The role of the marketer is a journey. We gain experience by working in different functional areas to understand how all the pieces fit together. We spend time learning in companies of all sizes in various industries. There is no one-size-fits-all playbook to becoming a marketing leader.
We all have important people in our network who have helped us get where we are along the way. Because of this, I believe it’s important to give back to your younger self. Give back to people who have a willingness to work hard and a curiosity to learn. The more we give back and help other marketers through mentorship, 1:1 meetings, and messages, the stronger the community gets. Sharing your knowledge, experience, and superpowers with others is leadership.”
As a marketing leader, you should strive to be a mentor. You’ll share your hard-earned experience and wisdom with the next generation of marketers, but you’ll also get a lot of fulfillment and personal development from it as well. When you realize the benefits that mentorship has had on both of you, consider sharing and encouraging other leaders in your organization to do the same.
If you’re at the stage where you want to introduce a mentorship program into your organization, make sure you have all your ducks in a row by bookmarking our definitive guide on starting a mentorship program.
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