The Karate Kid is quite possibly one of the most iconic mentor/mentee stories of all time. While the underlying teachings may have gone over our heads as children, taking a look back now can give us valuable insights for creating a successful mentorship today. During last month’s SXSW, The CMO Club sat down with two mentor/mentee pairs to have a candid conversation about what it takes to build a Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san type mentorship.
Emmanuel Laroche, VP of Marketing at Symrise, Dylan Thompson, Marketing and Consumer Insight Specialist at Symrise, Judy Hackett, CMO of Emerging Brands at Dun & Bradstreet, and Helen Yang, Marketing Director at Dun & Bradstreet shared their thoughts.
First Lesson: Mentoring is Important for Both People
Where would Daniel-san be without Mr. Miyagi? We can probably all relate to that feeling of relief in knowing that you have a respected and trusted confidante to turn to when times get tough. While our professional mentors may not have to physically save us like Mr. Miyagi did for Daniel-san, they are there to impart their hard-earned wisdom and come to bat for you during key moments in your career.
For mentors, they said they want to be able to help someone in their career the way that they had been helped in the past. They remember being in their mentees’ shoes and want to help them take the next step up the corporate ladder. But it’s also more than that: A great leader knows that the key to success is to never quit learning and our mentors very much view mentorship as a two-way street where they can learn, too. For mentees, it was important for them to follow Daniel-san’s lead and be attentive students. They said they got the most out of the mentorship when they spent time listening, becoming a sponge for knowledge and advice they can later use in their careers.
Thompson even likened his mentorship experience to getting an MBA: “He taught me so much that no one educational institution could. He took me along for the ride, pushed me out of my comfort zone and made all the difference in how I did things in my next job. Now, that’s a great mentor.”
Mr. Miyagi’s Perspective: Empathy and Authentic Leadership
Being a great mentor is about more than being assigned to check in on a team member on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. It’s about creating an informal – but confidential – environment outside of the work function where everyone involved has an equal voice. A place where no opinion, concern, idea or goal is invalid.
For many, they look for someone who is in a different department, organization or even industry to lend a new point of view to their problems and questions. However, this doesn’t always have to be the case.
In fact, our mentees at SXSW are both in the same organizations as their mentors. Rather than going outside of the company, they said that having the opportunity to select their mentors made the biggest difference in establishing a successful mentorship. When they were able to see someone in action first – motivating and empowering their team members to take initiative and actually rolling up their sleeves to help them ‘get it done’ – they knew whether they would align with their values and leadership style.
“I knew I wanted to get to know Judy better after being in a few meetings with her. I reached out and…the rest – as they say – is history. We hit it off right from the start. We are both straight forward people who tell things as they are. Our conversations started with sharing what was going on in our different units and evolved to talking about careers. Judy became someone I trusted to get perspective and advice. I’ve had mentors assigned to me in the past but this is the most rewarding one for me – I think it’s because I chose Judy,” said Yang.
First Learn to Walk, Then Learn to Fly: Teaching Ideas and Philosophies
For any professional mentorship to succeed, it needs to be built on a foundation of transparency, where each person is comfortable sharing their expectations, establishing goals and communicating on a regular basis about what is and isn’t working for them. Objectives will organically change over time, and an open line of communication will help mentors present opportunities and lend relevant advice as plans evolve.
Panelists agreed that the best bosses they ever had were those that encouraged them to take opportunities and career moves that aligned with where they truly wanted to be in the future – even if that meant they would leave their current role. One mentee said a former boss even helped her negotiate a contract when she was ready to move on!
Finally, a mentorship relationship is about leading by example (for the mentor) and learning from that lead (for the mentee). Trust, respect, honesty, a results-oriented mindset and a desire to better not only your company but the team you work with – the same things that set you apart as a great marketing leader – will also be the skills that are most valuable to pass on to your mentees.