Your most common mentoring questions, answered

Your most common mentoring questions, answered

Not sure how to get started with your mentoring journey? Seasoned CIM mentor Melissa Fretwell has the answers

Whenever I suggest mentoring as a great development tool to a fellow marketer, I usually hear one of the following reactions:

  1. ‘Yep that’s great, I’ll look at it later as I am snowed under today.’

  2. ‘I am totally on it and don’t need that kind of help thanks.’

  3. ‘I’m not really looking for a new job right now.’

Perhaps mentoring has a little bit of an image problem? So let’s look at mentoring in a fresh, dewy light, by answering some of the most common queries on this lesser understood development technique. 

How do I make time?

Before we get started, let’s procrastinate for a paragraph or two about erm, procrastination. It is a peculiar thing. We are petrified of failure so we don’t dare to make a start. When we get under the skin of this irritant, we realise it’s actually stopping us from trying out some exciting new possibilities. The infinite social media scrolling, the many tabs open, the never-ending to do list, even the habit of putting others first. Then there’s the guilt of not doing what we think we should be doing. The anxiety of eating that frog. We all know about prioritisation, right? But hold up... there’s this urgent call to take and that cuppa to brew so the frog is easier to swallow.

On the flipside, you may be reading this and thinking you are that totally on it person, winning at busyness. Those plates you’re spinning are not smashing to the ground, you are a machine, ruling your task list and remembering all the birthdays. But are you making time for the emotional work? Do you take time to reflect on what’s frustrating you, why you avoid certain conversations or whether you’ve stopped dreaming big? 

The tonic to procrastination is, of course, action. First up, let’s reframe it. What if you treated everything like a grand experiment which has a number of outcomes, some desirable, some less so? You know all the possible variations so the fear of failure is now mitigated. Tick. Now back to your mentoring plan. Let’s give it a lovely name, like self-care, a reset, a recharge, a superpower. Whatever sounds more motivational to you and doesn’t make your toes curl. Tick.

What value can mentoring bring me? 

So you’ve made the time, now let’s unpack some of the value mentoring brings. It’s a great place to open up about what the real challenges are, define them and chew them over with another human who can ask questions which unlock fresh ways to try to solve that issue. It could be about how to manage up, resolve conflict, or dig further into the drivers of a situation; the presenting problem is rarely the actual problem. I also find it a great space to build people up, encourage them to go for rising star awards, and, without getting too Sheryl Sandberg on you, lean the heck in. I have learnt a huge amount about how different learning styles across the introvert - extrovert spectrum can influence the style of conversation. I have had to work hard on my listening skills and sit on my hands rather than interject and attempt to fix everything fast. 

I caught up with Heather MacRae the CEO of UK charity Ideas Foundation who are all about educating the next creative class. She sees the power of mentoring every day. “Mentoring in all its forms is so important. Having a cheerleader, challenger, creative, coach, connector who is there for you can be transformational. It is especially important for those who don’t have family or friends in the sector … and for those who are coming into the industry from underrepresented communities – both in terms of ethnicity, social class and geography.”  

Here are some of the other most commonly asked questions on mentoring, and answers to help you get started. 

What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring? 

We can get hung up on the terminology, another potential blocker to getting started. I spoke to Jen Topping, a fellow fan of the power of talking, and she clears this up nicely:

“Coaching and mentoring are different and it is important before you engage in either that you know what you are in for. Mentoring is where a more senior and experienced person gives someone the benefit of their wisdom. While the role of a coach is about helping someone to learn themselves rather than teaching them. By the coach posing curious questions and observations, the client is encouraged to think more deeply and hopefully gains new awareness or perhaps even a lightbulb moment about their situation. Coaching and mentoring can both be valuable and productive, but being aware of the differences is helpful to get the best out of the relationship.” 

How do you get the best out of the relationship?

Take some time to think about the support you really need, set the agenda. There's always something useful to focus on; it could be emotionally charged dilemmas like how to combat imposter syndrome, manage those difficult conversations to the more pragmatic; how to master your time, setting ambitious goals or the steps to take when planning a family and maintaining a career path. Set a regular schedule for your sessions, monthly or fortnightly and stick to the time, read the follow up notes and do the work between the meet ups to get the most out of the process. 

Can mentoring help me get a new job?

Yes! Using mentoring as the launch pad for a new job search is a sound strategy. It delivers the wonderful benefit of an impartial ear, the comfort of an unbiased sounding board. It can also support you in the early months of being in the new role. 

How do you find that perfect mentor?

Blatant plug alert - you are in the right place, the CIM Mentoring programme for members is pretty tidy. When choosing your mentor, think about the kind of industry you’re interested in understanding more about. Or maybe you have a passion for storytelling or honing your leadership skills. LinkedIn is our friend, there is no harm in checking out the mentors to see their full career history and the kind of posts and groups they are interested in. You could even connect there first. 

And now, perhaps some questions you’ve wondered about mentoring but haven’t dared to ask:

  • Am I too old to be a mentee? I have checked the small print and there’s definitely no age limit. You may be looking at switching sectors or becoming a mentor yourself. It’s also a two way process where the mentor learns from the mentor. I think us marketing folk would call that synergy. 

  • What if I lose it and open up too much? The pandemic has been the perfect storm to test everyone’s mental health. While mentoring is therapeutic, mentoring isn’t therapy. Setting the boundaries is important and no one will ever be judged for shedding tears of frustration, sadness or laughter. It is a safe, confidential space. 

  • Can I just get the mentor to sign off on my marketing plan? This sounds like an excellent idea in practice but passing your workload to your mentor is a bit like cheating on a maths test; you don’t learn much. The mentor can help you figure out the tough bits, but your day-to-day role is up to you. 

Those are some of the most common mentoring queries I receive, which I hope have cleared up any urban myths around the wonder that is mentoring. Who knows where the journey could take you?

CIM members can access our exclusive mentoring programme now. Visit MyCIM to sign up today and find your perfect marketing match to help you take the next step. Not yet a member? Discover the benefits you're missing out on. 

Melissa Fretwell MCIM Founder White Camino
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