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What it takes to be a great PR mentor

If you want to get to the top in PR it helps to have someone cheering you on. And once you have reached the top, it is rewarding to nurture new talent, plus you can learn a few lessons yourself from those you are helping. Here we offer a few tips for giving, and getting, the most from your mentoring sessions.

Being a mentor means putting some thought into how you want to coach and also making sure that the person you are helping knows what to expect. Sophie Raine, deputy managing director at agency W Communications, says that you need to be encouraging and open: “I always encourage those I mentor to come to the session armed with questions and try to adopt a nothing-is-off-limits policy. This applies to both parties, one of the things that makes an excellent mentor is when they can be forthcoming about the mistakes they’ve made – it’s reassuring to see someone with more experience let their guard down in this way, it builds trust and encourages the mentee to share their own mistakes.”

Make sure the work of the mentoring session continues afterwards. Raine says: “I ask mentees to take some homework with them too – be it tackling something in a different way and feeding back how it worked, through to thinking about how their career looks in a year, so we can work on how to get them there quickly.”

Mentoring works both ways

Raine highlights how rewarding the coaching experience can be, as you receive at least as much as you give. “Mentoring is very much a two-way relationship, with both parties benefiting greatly. As a mentor, I’ve been able to glean an invaluable one-to-one insight into the woes and joys of juniors within the company which has made a significant difference to how I approach staff retention and happiness. As a mentee I’ve been able to heed incredible advice – much of which I’ve put into practise throughout my career.”

Endorsing Raine’s view that the process works both ways, Christie Galloway, PR director at marketing agency Big Cat, says: “The younger employees in the office quite often can teach the elders a thing or two – especially when it comes to social and digital. We need each other in order to continue to move forward. For example, Gen-Xers can provide millennials with industry best practice and tried-and-tested advice, whilst millennials can offer instant links to the technology of our future. It’s a great way to empower both emerging and established leaders in the workplace and it’s incredibly easy to implement. Employees get matched with different generations and meet regularly to exchange ideas and challenge each other. It’s a perfect way to go beyond the traditional one to ones with your line manager and gain some career training from someone you respect and admire in the office – regardless of age or experience.”

Creating leaders

Trying to train people to be great leaders has particular challenges. First of all, it is important to remember that staying at the top is not just about putting in long hours. Johan Taft, CEO of coaching company Magnify your Greatness, says: “Many executives and talented individuals keep trying harder as a strategy for success, caught in the exhausting react-and-response mode where circumstance and emotion rather than wisdom and possibility dictate their every decision.”

If you are coaching a leader it is vital to remind them of what their priorities should be. Taft says: “What is a leader really paid to do? Is it not that they are paid to think at the highest level? To work as much or more on the business as in the business?”

Taft uses the example of Samurai warriors of ancient Japen: “They spent more time developing their minds than doing anything else. A slow, cloudy, tired, upset or unfocused mind could cost them their head! One brilliant idea or enlightened move could make all the difference.”

Whether you are using Samurai techniques to develop brilliant leaders, or helping a junior PRO to learn the tools of the trade, one skill is vital for all mentors, and that is the ability to empathise. As long as you are able to relate to those you are working with, and take the time to listen, you are likely to build a strong relationship that will benefit both parties.

SIx tips for successful mentoring

From PR coach Helen Campbell:

1) Find out what people stand for. “Whether I'm coaching a freelance PRO; a small business or a job-seeker, I'll ask what their key messages are. We explore what they really want people to know about them. This will help my client to craft a strategy, a CV or a series of social media posts. Once we've nailed the messages, I may recommend media-interview training.”

2) Create goals and explore how to reach them. “A coach or mentor can help individuals and business leaders to pin down personal and company goals, look at how realistic they are and create a route to achieving them. As we approach a new year, now's a great time to consider goals and articulate them.”

3) Rarely give instructions. “A coach is there to listen without interruption, and help to ignite your thinking. Whilst a mentor may additionally introduce you to new contacts and ideas, the biggest service they'll offer is to really listen. The power of coaching and mentoring is facilitating those 'eureka' moments, and being calm, engaged and quiet enough to allow thinking to happen. I'm currently reading Time to Think by Nancy Kline which explains this beautifully.“

From Sally Maier-Yip, managing director of marketing agency 11K Consulting:

4) Make it personal. “Having a good understanding of the personality, strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and fears of my mentees is fundamental to the success of our mentoring relationship.”

5) Empower your mentee. “Being a mentor does not mean that I am ‘better’ than my mentees. But it means that I am given the trust to empower my mentees to be better at work (and in life). As a mentor, I have usually already gone through the journey that my mentees are going to embark on, and hence sharing the lessons learnt from my past experiences can help empower my mentees to have the courage required to face their upcoming challenges.

6) Stay in touch. “Successful mentoring must be a regular relationship. I have been a mentee myself before becoming a mentor and I found regular communication with my mentor is critical to help me ensure that I am progressing towards my goals with the guidance of a trusted mentor who gives me constructive feedback on a regular basis such as once a month.”

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