My son has reached that glorious age when we can finally watch Star Wars together.
Not just the Lego versions, but the first few films. I hadn’t watched ‘A New Hope’ for at least 15 years. (I can’t believe that film is over 45 years old and the franchise that sprung from its loins.) But the area which piqued my interest this time was Luke acquiring a mentor in Obi-Wan Kenobi. (Fresh parenting perspective by any chance?)
Without his guidance would Luke have been able to bring down the Death Star? Take on Emperor Palpatine? Would he have had the self-belief? The conviction? The light sabre skills? Maybe. But it feels like that relationship was the catalyst which propelled Luke literally into space. (And the Force, obviously, but that doesn’t really work for my analogy. So, let’s run with the mentor / mentee relationship which led to saving their galaxy.)
I believe everyone in our industry should acquire themselves a mentor.
And yes, most of us get to have one-to-ones with our line manager. The worst line managers just tell you what to do in order to ‘manage’ you. Whilst the best managers form long-lasting bonds that live on far past the time when you both have moved on from that agency.
What interests me more is the mentorship partnerships which aren’t forced upon you by an organogram. The ones that are actively sought out inside or outside your agency or even industry or discipline. Mentors who are willing to be generous with their time and experience and are willing to help guide the next generation. And mentees who are brave and smart enough to seek guidance and build relationships over years, not tenures.
There’s a Google Sheet that has been circulating for a while. It contains a list of people in our industry who are willing to provide mentorship to young talent anywhere in the world. I added my name in 2020, and it was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with some immensely talented strategists, creatives, photographers, marketers, and more. Sometimes, I've had just one session with them, and with others, I’ve maintained the relationship over the years. And because we don’t work together, I couldn’t provide ‘management’ even if I wanted to.
Instead, our time is spent with them mostly explaining their challenges and opportunities, and I listen and ask probing questions to help them work through their thinking. Of course, imparting what you’ve learned over the years helps, but the real value is using your knowledge to help them tap into theirs. Because, often, the best answers will come from them, not you.
And, since no conversation with me can be had without AI involved somewhere, I have become increasingly interested in how generative AI can be used as a stop-gap between human-to-human sessions.
Personally, I’d select one with more ‘empathy’ built into its manner, like Pi, which I’m increasingly a fan of. Once properly trained and informed they can be decent at asking questions to help you explore your thinking. Of course, this is no replacement for human interface, but there’s value here if you buy into the sounding board approach. Although, I’d always go for Obi-Wan over C-3PO. But that’s me.
I believe there is an opportunity in bottom-up mentoring, rather than exclusively top-down.
It requires substantial trust and probably even more rigour in the partnering, but having sharp, younger-yet-still-experienced agency folk able to provide thinking, questions, and perspectives to more senior members can provide incredible value and longevity.
This isn’t about making people feel ‘heard’ in the agency, but a way to explore more holistic perspectives which can benefit the whole business. And this is relevant whether it’s someone from your agency or outside of it – the benefits remain.
A final thought for the budding mentors out there is the value you can derive from being one. I get as much - and often more - out of the sessions. The shared diversity of thought, varied challenges, and all-new approaches open new ways of thinking for me as much as I hope it does for them.
There is so much value in the right kind of mentorship, and finding the right person to guide you through your career is something that will propel it forward.
There are loads of studies citing that those with a mentor have greater job satisfaction, higher salaries, and faster career progression. Plus, there’s the bonus of enhancing your sense of competence, identity, and effectiveness.
So, to all you Lukes and Lucys (and those who don’t identify as either), I hope you find your Obi-Wan. May the Force be with you.
Lead image credit: iStock.com/jpgfactory
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