Simon Dodd, Management and Marketing Consultant

Let’s face facts – running a business can and should be extremely satisfying, but it can also be harrowing and very lonely. And when many of us first get into those leadership roles, it is all too easy to think that is it sign of weakness to admit you need help. It isn’t.

I am lucky enough to have received wonderful mentoring support over the years and now I enjoy using my experience and energy to support others. There really is no better feeling than seeing a MD or CEO enjoying their role and making the right decisions and being a decisive and strong leader.

So how did it work for me, and how do I use that to help others?

I believe it is all built on trust. The person who you are supporting, or is supporting you, needs to trust you to be open with you. They need to want to freely admit their anxieties and concerns, even fears. And you need to trust them to take your feedback and advice at face value. I remember the first time my mentor many years ago asked me a really incisive and hard question, and in that moment, I decided to answer truthfully. The sense of relief was huge. And I could see they respected my candour. From that moment we had a strong and open relationship.

Without two-way trust, this never works properly.

So how do you get to that point? You need to work hard to build mutual respect and understanding. The mentor must quickly prove that they recognise many of the situations and often use anecdotes to make that connection and give that reassurance. They must also quickly prove that they will stand up to the client, “the boss”, and if they disagree, say so, and explain why.

At the same time, the mentor must learn all about the agency. Their Due Diligence must be deep and wide - they make a big effort to, yes, get the know the leadership team, but also the junior people in the team. The mentor must always have a broad and vivid view on the talent in the agency, as well as the mood.

I also strongly believe that the right mentor is always there.

A NED is a key part of a team but is usually less hands-on and has more structured time with the agency or its leaders. I think if someone really needs to talk on a Sunday morning, that is fine. They should not feel they are encroaching. If it is that important to them to talk on that Sunday morning, they must know the mentor is fine to talk. Mentoring is 7 days a week.

All of this may be pretty obvious so far, but there is one additional asset that I believe every mentor must bring to a relationship to make it really fly. They must be prepared to roll their sleeves up when the boss and agency need it.  I’ll give you an example – an agency where I was CEO was on a huge, fortunes-altering, pitch and we knew we hadn’t cracked it. Because we didn’t have someone who could bring an external macro view on the evolving role of agencies. My mentor offered to step in. Did all the hard graft with the rest of us – the all-nighters, etc., and even did the pitch. And yes, we won it!

And one last thing – the fit has to be right. Really right. A mentor might look great on paper and have all the empathy and interpersonal skills you need. But do they relax you, do they excite you, do they inspire you, do they reassure you? The right ones do. So, don’t be afraid after a few weeks to take stock and if it isn’t feeling deeply right, or your doubts are growing, call it quits.

I’d finally like to say that as well as all the great stuff that the right mentors have done for me, and I hope I have done for the MDs, CEOs, and leadership teams that I’ve supported over the years, I now have several enduring friendships.

People I’m no longer involved with, but we still have a great close relationship. Mutual respect and friendships for life. And all to initially achieve commercial ends. What could be better.

Get yourself the right mentor. It will make a huge difference to you and your agency.

Last updated 07 December 2023