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Four executives on how to be an unforgettable marketing mentor

By Alicia Johnston / November 12, 2019

“Mentoring can happen in moments,” says Tisha Leslie, Director of Employer Brand at T-Mobile. “I believe some people shy away from mentoring because it feels somewhat akin to a long-term relationship, but it doesn’t have to be.”

Mentorship in all of its forms helps build strong leaders, engaging cultures and meaningful relationships. Mentors can provide valuable strategic insight, create a safe place for vulnerable career conversations and help mentees develop the perspective needed to excel in their careers.

This is especially true in marketing, an industry known for its constant evolution: marketing mentorship provides an expert resource to help mentees navigate an ever-changing tech, social and media landscape. At the business level, both formal and informal mentorship can increase engagement, retention and satisfaction for employees on both sides of the equation.

But as Leslie described, mentorship can also feel like a major commitment—and, it’s not something that comes naturally to every leader. We spoke to four marketing executives to understand what successful mentorship looks like and how to create impactful mentoring experiences that drive personal and professional growth.

Mentorship starts with generosity

“Being asked to mentor can be a scary thing at first,” says Thom Lytle, Senior Director of Social Business at Dell. “But just when you don’t think you have too much to offer, you’ll uncover some hidden wisdom in your own experiences that others will find very useful.”

A common quality of successful mentorships is generosity: memorable mentors make themselves available to share feedback, personal experiences and their own networks with mentees.

Camille Ricketts, Head of Marketing at Notion and former editor of the First Round Review, met one of her mentors when interviewing her for a Review piece. As you might expect, Molly Graham, a founder whose career spans Google, early Facebook, Quip, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, kept a busy schedule, but Ricketts says, “she took the time to connect, catch up on what I was doing, offer advice on challenges I was facing and make herself available to discuss the emotional, more personal side of work.”

But generosity isn’t only about availability. The strongest mentors bring their full selves to mentoring conversations and don’t shy away from vulnerability. All four of the leaders we spoke to emphasized the importance of mentors in influencing the social-emotional aspects of work and the value of mentorship in creating a safe place to ask questions, fine tune ideas and receive candid feedback.

What you give is what you get

Research has shown that mentorship consistently leads to better career outcomes for both mentors and mentees, including greater job satisfaction, organizational commitment and career success. Effective mentors push others to be confident, reflective and curious. But often more importantly, hearing from a mentor and building a relationship with a senior leader cultivates a sense of connection and belonging in mentees.

“I have learned that we are all going through the same motions in our respective careers, no matter the industry or job title,” says Hasnain Raza, Vice President of Marketing at Market One Media Group. “What is important for us is that we need to feel a sense of belonging and knowing that we are not alone in our respective journeys.”

“Giving advice has unlocked my ability to operate better in my own life in the same ways,” says Ricketts. “I’d say that mentoring has added a lot of unexpected richness to my whole life, not just my professional life.”

The keys to successful marketing mentorship

There a number of ways to approach mentorship, and as Leslie noted, they don’t all have to be in the context of a formal relationship. You can use the following tactics as part of a formal mentoring relationship, or you can apply them across the board: when engaging with your direct reports, networking, speaking to more junior marketers or fostering a culture of marketing mentorship and coaching amongst managers on your team.

Ask and encourage “powerful questions.”

Having an inquisitive mindset can help draw out new realizations from your mentees—and encouraging your mentees to engage in this type of deep questioning can spark reflection for you as well. Leslie highlighted one of her mentees who brings a few powerful questions to each of their calls. “[These questions] make me really look forward to our meetings. I actually learn something because in answering her questions, I’m able to be reflective and thoughtful and process parts of my career I really haven’t stopped to think about.”

Mentors can start by modeling the type of thoughtful curiosity they’d like to see from mentees. Ricketts says, “A good mentor asks a ton of questions to feel out what is really going on with their mentee and helps the person see more clearly themselves through answering. Mentorship is at its best when it is so closely tailored to the mentee’s experience and personality.”

Create a safe zone.

Respect and empathy are two core tenets of a mentoring relationship. As a mentor, consider sharing anecdotes on how you’ve handled similar situations and tailoring feedback to how mentees can approach a scenario they’re experiencing. Raza notes that when you’re working with your mentee, “they are coming to you and showing vulnerability. It is your job to see it as their strength because it is really difficult to talk about things they may be afraid or uncomfortable to talk over.”

Having this type of sounding board is valuable no matter where you are in your career. When Leslie recently asked for mentorship from a colleague, she highlighted her interest in having that safe place for open discussion. “What I said I was most interested in was a safe place where I as an executive could ask questions without any fear of any of those questions being a ‘ding’ on my reputation. That becomes really difficult the higher up that you get in the organization.”

Provide candid feedback.

One valuable aspect of mentorship for mentees is the opportunity to receive feedback from someone who isn’t their direct manager. An outside perspective can push mentees to think differently about their approach to a situation or their mindset around a challenge they’re facing.

That said, before giving your assessment of a situation, it’s important to hear what your mentee has to say—what they’re thinking and feeling. As Lytle notes, “Listening is essential to building a starting point of trust. Feedback must always be honest and should come from past experiences.”

Push your mentee to think bigger.

Beyond creating a safe place for open dialogue, mentoring relationships give mentees a secure foundation from which they can take risks. As a mentor, part of your role is to use your insights to challenge your mentee’s assumptions and understanding. Raza highlights one of his mentors, Farhan Lalani, who is the CEO of Market One Media Group. Lalani often responds to Raza’s ideas with encouragement to dream bigger. He says, “it programmed me to always strive for the best and never settle”—a lesson that’s been instrumental to his career growth.

And when your mentees do go bigger? Be the first to celebrate and cheer them on.

Celebrating mentorship

All of us are juggling dozens of priorities, but our first duty as leaders is to people. Offering your insight as a mentor, either within your organization or more broadly, is one of the most powerful ways to amplify your impact and find more fulfillment in your professional life.

As Camille Ricketts put it, “Whenever work itself feels rote or daunting, mentorship relationships add energy and nourish the soul.”

Fostering that type of connection might not be written into a job description, but the value you create when mentoring others will outlast the day-to-day.

Alicia Johnston

Alicia Johnston

Alicia Johnston is the Senior Manager of Content & Communications at Sprout Social, leading a team responsible for thought-provoking content and engaging internal communications. Away from the keyboard, she can usually be found at the farmer’s market, traveling or on the hunt for Chicago’s best almond croissant.
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