Why Mentoring Matters to Millennials

March 25, 2016 - 4:00pm
By: 
Ashton Smith
Why Mentoring Matters to Millennials

A good mentor can help mold the advertising landscape, one account person at a time.I can still remember my first day of the “ad life”. I had just come out of seven years of internal brand-side marketing for a large company and had convinced myself that agency side was going to be my next challenge. As I walked into my first meeting I looked around the room, hearing smart people spew out every acronym you could imagine and ideas that gave me goosebumps. The first few weeks I kept my head in a notebook taking in as much as I possibly could while, in the back of my mind, questioning what I had gotten myself into.

As the weeks went by, things got better. I spoke up, people were listening to my ideas, building on them, and I started to find myself gravitating to the smartest people in the room. One of those people, a planner, helped me 100 percent find my way in agency life. She became a mentor to me before I even realized what was happening. I watched, took notes, and LIVED everything she did when speaking to clients, prepping for presentations, and even emulated her approaches to thinking. She encouraged me to think strategically and question the status quo. When she walked into a room, people wanted to know what she had to say and trusted her. Clients loved her forward thinking, and the organized way she got them to the results they wanted. It seemed seamless, effortless, but I knew, (in the background), the hard work she put into every home-run meeting she was a part of. This relationship really got to the root of what, I think, is one of the most important parts of professional growth in any industry, especially ours, mentorship.

Importance of Mentoring

In those first few weeks at the advertising agency, there was a slew of training that was thrown at me. At the base of that training was all the functional, how-to, kinds of things I needed — how to format recaps and presentations, track billing, and do time sheets. (Are those brilliant basics from the “Perfect Account Executive”  blog ringing a bell?) Mentoring, on the other hand, is so much deeper and more personal — it complements training. With training, I was given tools, whereas mentorship gave me coaching and counseling to take the tools and sharpen them. I learned how to embrace different personalities, give and receive constructive criticism (anyone who works in an agency knows how fun this is on both ends), and how to find my own voice.

Not buying it yet? Here are four more benefits of mentorship to help spark that fire…

Walk the Walk

I think one thing I did right going into my adventure was I had the mindset of not being intimidated by the smartest person in the room. So many times, I think, people feel threatened by someone who they feel is more experienced, a better speaker, or who can command the attention of a room. Instead of focusing on how you need to grow those talents, focus on how awesome it is that someone with those talents is available to you. Latch on to those people (yes, I said people — we millennials are needy — we need a team of mentors) and use their skills to sharpen yours. You mentor will help you avoid the mistakes they made. This notion affords you the privilege of making different mistakes (notice I still said mistakes, because YES, mistakes are part of the process). Utilize the guidance of someone who is already walking the walk and talking the talk. They know the sweat and tears it takes to reach success. Yet, you get to decide if this is the right course for you. For me, I learned through my mentor, that while I am an “account service” gal, I have a passion for planning. She saw the fire in me and challenged me to work on brands and projects that would give me more tools, specifically planning tools, to make the way I took care of clients even better. A good mentor will not only guide you down the correct path but will ensure that you are shaping it to your own custom journey.

Build Your Confidence

While I was on my new path, you better believe there was uncertainty in my every day. The feeling of uncertainty is something we all experience, and some people can overcome it by themselves; others can not. I was lucky enough to have another mentor walk into my life who brought (and exemplified) a different set of skills I needed to hone. This man was one of the smartest, sharpest, and quickest people I had ever met. While I was crafting the skills I needed to think and present my ideas, I needed major help believing in myself and feeling confident enough to SPEAK UP! Having my mentors available to bounce my plans and ideas off of helped build my confidence; they were my safety net. I truly believe that having confidence is 90 percent of the battle each time you walk into a room.

While I know my “confidence guru” (if he is reading this, he is eating up that loving pet name) often wanted to strangle me because I was not the quickest learner, he stayed on me. He called on me in meetings and expanded my roles and responsibilities. He forced me outside of my comfort zone which helped me trust in my knowledge and skills. He texted me at night when I questioned something I did during the day (Type A’s raise your hands if you feel me) and helped talk me down off the ledge with wisdom. He knew what I was made of deep down and brought it out of me. With his words, I gained new experiences that later led to bigger team roles. Here is the best part: every time I had a win or I checked off a new skill I accomplished, those two people were there cheering for me. A good mentor wants to see you succeed and celebrate your success.

Tell It Like It Is

Let’s be real here, most of the time this is the hardest part of any relationship. First, you have to put your ego aside and find someone who is not going to sugar coat things for you. For mentorship to work you have to be able to accept criticism to allow for growth. When I have a rough day, a client or coworker says something that gets under my skin, that is the moment I pick up my phone … and call my mom. My mom’s job is to be on my side, no matter what. A mentor’s job is to help you grow, and that means they can’t be your mom. Have there been times where my sweet mentors had to tell me “you know you could have done better by…”? Yes. Is it my favorite? Absolutely not. But, with each lesson learned comes growth. Do I make those mistakes again? Usually not. As a person who hates to disappoint, these mentor relationships are imperative to teaching me about constructive criticism. As a millennial, those are tough lessons to learn. Open and honest communication is the cornerstone of a successful mentoring relationship.

A Resource For Life

The absolute, hands-down, best part of the two mentors I scooped up along the way is that once they became my mentor they become one for life. As I have moved up and on those connections are something I still rely on. Whether it is a late night text with an idea I have brewing, a quick picture of me doing something the way they taught me (I send these often), or just a quick check in to let them know I still appreciate and value their words, they are still there for me. I know that as I continue along my path there will never be a moment where I know it all and no longer need help. What makes great employees, great advertisers, great PEOPLE is the talent that pours into them and guides them along their way.

I truly believe that all of us have a responsibility to our agencies to help, develop, and pour into the people who will shape the culture of the business for years to come. How will you act on that responsibility?

Not everyone will stumble into their mentors. Here are three quick tips for finding a mentor:

  1. Look outside of your industry.
  2. Don’t rely on only one mentor, build your dream team.
  3. Seek out a mentor authentically, it will carry greater value in your life.

Tell me more about a mentor relationship that has defined you in the comments.

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