In the early days of working in PR, I used to get into a real headspin about prioritising tasks. Everything seemed to be required, "asap”. There were endless tasks to complete, staggered deadlines and a bucket load of pressure. Of course I now realise that this was a matter of perspective, but the counter-productive time I spent ‘spinning around’ could have so easily been avoided, writes Nina Plowman.

Great mentorship is all about cutting dead the ‘internal spinning’ before it starts, and empowering people so they feel supported and have a sense of control over their destiny.

When setting up Cultural Comms, our value systems were born from our business mission to connect audiences with culture. There was also a real belief in the importance of sharing knowledge with the team, leading by example and through encouragement.

As I have found over the years, the real magic happens when there is an active culture of meaningful mentorship living inside an organisation. Individuals need to feel that they are in a safe place to share in the areas of their professional and personal development. The more we get into the habit of communicating well with each other, the greater the trust levels become.

Our mentoring programme began informally and it grew over time to have more structure. Now everyone has a mentor and everyone is a mentee. Mentees are encouraged to prepare for sessions beforehand, and mentors to actively listen to others without agenda. A mentoring session can only be productive if there is an element of ‘planned vulnerability’ i.e. considering which professional ‘heartbreaks’ need some focus.

We have found that our mentoring programme helps communication flow throughout the team. Everyone has a role in helping the next person and this supports a 'team-first' attitude - all teams need to operate as one.  In Maori society the ‘Whanau’ principle translates to "our family, our friends, our tribe." In the book Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership by James Kerr, the author talks about the endless support system found in a flock of birds - one bird leads, another follows, another takes the lead, and so on.

“Ornithologists say that flying this way is 70% more effective than flying solo. If a bird falls out of formation, it feels the wind resistance and rejoins the flock. Should one fall behind, others stay back until it can fly again. No bird gets left behind.”

I find the mentoring process one of the most rewarding parts of running a PR business. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and it’s a real joy to unlock a ‘problem area’ and see someone shine.

Mentoring is crucial to hooking out any problems in the team early on and catching opportunities too. PR agency life can be stressful at the best of times, so making regular timeslots for mentoring is part of our modus operandi. There have been (and will continue to be) lumps and bumps along the way, but embracing this collective culture of support through an effective mentoring system we achieve a happy working environment where everyone feels supported and empowered.

Mentoring matters because it can transform an individual but also a whole working culture.

These are my thoughts on how to be a meaningful mentor:

  1. Get into active listening mode – it’s about your mentee, not about you.
  2. Learn the language of mentorship – don't tell, ask questions and listen to understand.
  3. Prepare for the session – encourage your mentee to share their ‘heartbreaks’ (their challenges) ahead of the session.
  4. Remember that anyone can be a mentor - forget the myths, everyone has personal experiences to share. Remember the metaphor, “standing on the shoulders of giants” - we discover truth by building on discoveries that have gone before.

Get in touch: