How to Get the Most out of Your Mentoring Relationships: A Virtual Roundtable Recap

Having a professional mentor means talking to someone who has been in your shoes before - someone who can guide you when you are stuck, or go to bat for you when you need a personal advocate. They can lend insight into company or marketplace trends, provide a new perspective from which to view your challenges and opportunities and help you establish career benchmarks that set you up for future success.

Knowing this, I posed a question during a recent Virtual Roundtable discussion: “Have you been in a formal mentorship program in the past?”

Some had, most hadn’t. And, of those who have had a mentor in the past, it was most frequently a top executive within their own company - sometimes even their own CEO - who was that mentor.

This is a topic I've been very passionate about for some time and, in all my years of being both a mentee and mentor, I've learned these relationships must be built on collaboration, communication and trust in order to be successful.

Mentorship is a two-way street where - believe it or not - both parties are getting great value from the experience.

For a mentee, it is an invaluable learning opportunity and a safe space to have a sounding board as you move along in your professional career. It’s rare - if not impossible - to get candid honesty and advice from people you work with every day, but a mentor is there to be that person. While for a mentor, it’s the chance to continue the marketing legacy and get a fresh perspective on a role and industry that is changing at the speed of light.

Set the Stage with How you Approach the Relationship

To begin, make sure you have reached out to someone that has a career trajectory you respect and would like to emulate. They will be able to help you more if they know your paths are aligned and can give specific advice for how they achieved the successes they've had. Whether it's industry, role, geography or company size, find a mentor that is in a job you think you want. 

Another thoughtful way to approach the relationship added one Future CMO Club member, is to find someone who has a very different skill set and day-to-day life than you. They will add a dose of inspiration and new perspective that makes you (a little) uncomfortable and challenges you to think creatively in ways you may have never considered.

Why Some Mentoring Relationships Fail: Trust (or a Lack Thereof)

“For me, trust was the biggest question mark. I wasn’t sure if I could talk openly or if I needed to have a filter on what I said - and that’s not the underpinnings for a successful relationship,” said one Future CMO Club member when candidly sharing why a previous mentoring relationship didn't work for them. Another member shared an experience where their mentor would show up late and frequently seemed distracted, making them feel secondary to whatever was on that person's mind that day.

The truth is, mentors have these same reservations and experiences.

Right from the very start, it is absolutely imperative that both parties show up in confidence and follow through on their commitment to each other 100%. It's important to be present and speak what's on your mind. If you haven't been able to establish this mutual trust and respect with each other, it may be time to look for someone whose personality and values are more aligned with yours.

Bare in mind that when you first start meeting with each other, it will take time to get to know the other person. However, both people should always feel comfortable sharing what they want out of the relationship, knowing how (or with what) the other person can help and speaking up when something isn't working.

How to Build Trust

Both the mentor and the mentee have important roles in establishing trust and building a partnership. The sweet spot of mentorship is finding that balance between receiving learnings from your mentor and being told what do do. Here's how some of our members struck that balance as mentees:

  • Understand that a mentor is a sage, not a warrior or problem solver. Your mentor should probe you with questions and inspire you to ask the questions that help find the answers on your own - not solve the problems for you.

  • Bring openness and candidness to the table by being honest about what you’re working and struggling with - whether that's a personal obstacle or something within your organization.

  • On that note, talk to your mentor about your strengths, weaknesses and passions. It will not only help them direct their advice in a way that will best serve your talents, but it will help you gain clarity on your own goals. If things are sticking or feeling right, you may simply be in the wrong side of the arena.

  • Commit to following through with the action plan you and your mentor created. Action inspires action, and you will earn a loyal advocate when your mentor sees the dedication you have toward personal and career development. 

  • Accept constructive criticism. That's why you've engaged in mentorship in the first place! Growth isn't always pain-free, and your mentor isn't likely to sugar-coat things. However, they shouldn't ever cross that line of being disrespectful toward you. Know your boundaries and enforce them, if needed.

  • Be punctual, collaborative and open-minded - this last one is key!

“My best mentorship relationship was with an old boss that taught me to focus less on my own ambitions and more on the advancement of the company. My advancement would follow naturally, she said. She didn’t necessarily give me advice, but she prodded me to make my own decisions, and that’s powerful,” said Ellen Kramer, CMO, Funnelcake Strategy.

As a mentee, you have the power to set the stage for a very successful mentorship. Not every relationship is going to be the perfect one and, many times, you'll have mentors for different stages of your career. However, each one will help set the tone for your future career moves.