Being a first-time mentor is as scary for me as it is for you

I recently embarked on becoming a mentor through SheSays for someone in the advertising industry.


I’ve wanted to mentor for a long time, as I believe it’s vital to give a leg up and guidance to those who are passionate and keen to progress.

When you work in management, the assumption often made is that you are naturally blessed with leadership skills – built to manage resource, designed to lead a team and nurture those around you. But often, the reality is that you’re thrust into situations without warning and are making decisions based on your gut alone.

The more senior you get, the more isolating it can be.

You often have fewer people who can act as a sounding board and the time you have access to them is precious. But even as a junior, it’s hard to know where to find the right guidance for you.

I have been lucky enough in my career to have formed some brilliant partnerships with people who took me under their wing and mentored me, even if it wasn’t an ‘official’ agreement. I had lots of fantastic people who I could turn to for advice along the way, but it’s not like that for everyone.

I’ve always felt strongly about personal development and about making YOU better at what YOU do. And, I have always thought that in our industry we don’t have enough formal processes in place to mentor one another – and let’s be clear, mentoring is not the same as managing someone.

Mentoring allows you to have totally off the record conversations, and the solutions you are giving, are about benefiting someone, not about meeting a business objective. It is about drawing parallels with what you’ve experienced and what they are experiencing now and coaching them through that based on what you’ve learnt.

You as the mentor are there to provide guidance, and unlike a line manager, you get picked on the basis that you can inspire them and be trusted to help them progress – it’s a badge of honour!

Now all of this sounds great doesn’t it? I should feel confident in my expertise, and relaxed that no matter what they ask, I can answer them with years of experience under my belt. But when it comes to the crunch – as it did this week – my own fears and anxieties suddenly kicked in and it was really bloody scary.

So, many questions were flitting around in my mind:

What if I’m not going to give this person what they need. What if I don’t know how to help them – and they find out I’m a complete fraud? What if I haven’t had to overcome the challenges they are facing? What if this is as new to me as it is to them? What if we don’t have the right chemistry? What will they think of me? What if they think it’s a complete waste of time? How do I do it and where do I start?

Despite my nerves, I felt relatively well prepared for my first session. The beauty of doing it through a company like SheSays, is that they have thought about everything. So, I read my briefing pack just before my mentee arrived, and was thankful for the pep talk it gave me.

However, the one thing stood out, ‘what do you as the mentor what to get out of this?’ Shit, I hadn’t even thought about what I might get from this. I’ve just been worried about what I can give.

Before I knew it, she had arrived.

I sense there were nerves from both sides. We shared backgrounds quickly and discovered we had a lot of common ground. The things she was struggling with, I had experienced too. She had mentored herself which I was really impressed by and thought was fantastic. Our conversation was unstructured – really it was freefall – but we talked about issues she was facing and by probing I felt I could get a deeper sense of who she was.

I told a lot of personal stories about where I’d faced similar challenges before and how I’d got through them. I felt that the stories were a good way for me to apply my experience to her challenges, and together we identified a clear action plan with two key areas where she needed help. It felt like we really got each other.

It was clear from meeting her that she knew most of the answers already and it reminded me of how important it is to have those role models who you can trust and lean on – even if it’s just to say, ‘yes, you’re right’.

I came out feeling pretty brilliant – and while I work with and coach a lot of young people, it is always framed in the context of commercially how to grow the business. This wasn’t. This was for the joy of seeing someone who is going to fly.

So, go and do it. Be a mentor and get mentored. I’m hooked and I’m actually thinking about getting mentored myself – so if there are any takers for me, then get in touch!

Fiona ScottAbout the author

By Fiona Scott, CEO, PSONA. Having worked at some of the best known creative agencies in the UK, Fiona Scott joined PSONA at the beginning of 2016 with a remit to build awareness of the agency’s depth and breadth of offering.

Fiona has extensive experience of managing and growing creative direct and digital agencies including Elvis, Craik Jones and Kitcatt Nohr. Among a clutch of awards she has helped win, Fiona led a team that collected three DMA Grand Prixes for its work on Land Rover, as well as helping clinch Agency of the Year plaudits.

Along with collecting industry gongs, Fiona has worked with leading brands such as Sky, P&G, Unilever and Diageo, helping them through the growing pains of data and digital marketing.

In a break from the agency world a few years ago, Fiona even launched her own fashion brand, La Mack London, from scratch. The upmarket, luxury rainwear brand ended up being ordered by Harrods and was featured in glossy titles such as Tatler and Drapers. Bringing this entrepreneurial zeal to PSONA, Fiona is excited about the opportunity to build the UK’s most exciting customer engagement agency of the past ten years. Besides which, her name rhymes with the brand – it was obviously meant to be. Away from work, Fiona is a keen runner who can usually be seen being dragged on her daily trot by her enthusiastic dog Jack.

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