Rules of Engagement For Mentors

Headshot of Nadine Dietz

As busy professionals, we’re asked to participate in hundreds of committees, organizations, meetings, phone calls, and social events each month. Many of us want to say “yes” to all of them – especially the ones that have the potential to do good, like mentoring. Unfortunately, as the leaders of our organizations, our time is limited, and we often end up committing to more than we can actually attend.

In the case of mentoring, your decision to participate cannot be taken lightly. This is a one-on-one relationship with the potential to impact a person’s life for the better. For the relationship to work, you must be 100% present and committed to your time spent with your mentee. Before you begin a mentoring relationship, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I have time to mentor right now? Of course, you want to mentor. You’ve likely become the successful professional you are through the help of your own mentors and you’d love to pay it forward. But the keywords here are “right now.” Take a moment to evaluate your current personal and professional commitments. Do you have the bandwidth to fully commit time to your mentee right now?
  2. Am I willing to be fully present during my meetings with my mentees? For your mentoring relationship to work, you need to be 100% present during your meetings. This means no emailing, no answering phone calls, no thinking about your next meeting. Instead, you’ll need to listen, participate, and engage. Can you do it?
  3. Can I work with my mentee to create a trusting relationship?  To maintain confidentiality and work with your mentee as a coach as well as a mentor.  Sharing experiences, providing feedback and motivating and encouraging your mentee to challenge themselves is part of the role of mentor.  Is that possible right now?
  4. Am I willing to learn more? We’ve heard from numerous CMOs and executives that their most impactful mentoring relationships have been those that went beyond professional topics. To truly make a difference, you should be willing to take an interest in your mentee’s life outside the office and you must be willing to share details of your own.

Advice for Mentors

Connect on an emotional level

“I believe strongly in this whole concept of ‘servant leadership’ that is often discussed but not always clearly understood. I genuinely believe that everything I do as a leader should be for the benefit of the team and the organization that I have the privilege of leading and working with. Leadership transcends all. If you’re able to lead; if you can genuinely create followership and you’re able to resonate and connect with people on an emotional level, I think it allows you to accomplish things that others can’t.” –Terrance Williams, CMO and President of Emerging Businesses of Nationwide

Pay it forward

“I had the privilege to work with people that were not only at the top of their game and extremely talented but who were also extremely generous in terms of helping me grow. John Hayes, CMO of American Express, for example, or Mickey Drexler at J. Crew. Those were people who had a huge impact on my career and made a mission for themselves to help me be better. As leaders, we have a big responsibility to pay it forward. The older I get, the more I see the perspective of all those people who, in big ways and small ways, taught me [during my journey] and I’ve tried to do the same for others.” –Diego Scotti, CMO of Verizon

Be Honest and Direct 

“I had some pretty straight-shooting colleagues at The Walt Disney Company who gave me some tough life lessons that I value to this day. One of the most memorable was about choosing to be a leader vs. a powerhouse individual contributor and the difference. I don’t know if I would have seen it so clearly and early had it not been for some great women and men who believed enough in me to give me the cold, hard truth.” –Mary Beech, EVP and CMO of Kate Spade New York

Topics to consider discussing…

  • Career development & growth
  • Relationship management
  • Prioritizing challenges
  • Building, managing, and inspiring teams
  • Salary negotiation
  • Work-life integration
  • Developing and sharpening skills
  • Taking professional risks Nadine Dietz is chief community officer at Adweek and host of the CMO Moves podcast.