Musings on the value of mentoring, both as mentee and mentor

Two men having a chat

by Adrian Penrose FCIPR

My first encounter with mentoring was a decade ago. I’d just been invited to lead a prestigious big corporate project and was determined to make it a success. I felt I would benefit from the support of someone who wasn’t part of my everyday circle – someone who could not only help with ideas and problem solving but also be part of my leadership development journey. CIPR had recently started a trial mentoring scheme and I jumped at the opportunity to sign up. I was paired with a very experienced senior communications director (let’s call her Jane) – a PR industry heavyweight, with CIPR awards lined up in her office to prove it.

We met every few weeks and although in some respects our chats seemed quite informal, Jane was astutely identifying where I could best benefit from her input and, most importantly, giving me objective insight into what I needed to do to take my career to the next level.  At times, they felt like therapy sessions!  We talked about all sorts of things.  I ran past her my proposed campaign structure and was able to benefit from her extensive experience.  We discussed how to sell in the project and how to secure the influence I needed on the top corridor.  And yes, we talked about how to deal with tricky colleagues.  I scribbled notes and still refer to them.  I learnt so much more than I could have read in books, sourced online or gained from a training course.

To this day I am enormously grateful that Jane was so giving of her time to discuss such a wide range of topics despite her own punishing daily schedule.

On reflection, over the course of my career I have encountered a wide variety of situations and I’ve learnt something from every one of them – good and bad.  I’ve worked with some amazing people and enjoyed numerous complex corporate challenges and assignments.  It occurred to me that I’ve often been asked, by colleagues, friends or friends of friends, for advice, my opinion on career next steps or thoughts on how to tackle a challenging situation. I have always been happy to oblige, so when the CIPR announced the introduction of its all-new mentoring scheme last year, it seemed an obvious move to put myself forward to be a mentor – a chance to offer something back. It wasn’t long before I was approached by a potential mentee. Then a second. The first thing I learnt was how important the first discussion would be in deciding whether the ‘fit’ was right, on both sides, both professionally and personally and that both mentor and mentee needed to be totally honest about this.

I’m in regular contact with my first mentee and we agree that we both get a great deal from the experience. On the logistical front, the registration process was simple and there are safeguards in the formal agreement to protect both parties.  How often to meet, what time of day, what to discuss and how long the arrangement lasts, is entirely down to individual choice.  

The turmoil of the last 12 months has forced a re-think on traditional routes to training, work shadowing and personal development, even for those of us lucky enough to be in continuous employment.  The CIPR mentoring scheme offers an excellent opportunity to challenge yourself, as mentor and mentee, build something tangible for the future and provides a safe space to share whatever you want.

Adrian Penrose FCIPR is a freelance and interim communications specialist based near Cambridge,

Mentoring avaliable from the CIPR

Progress is the CIPR’s new mentoring scheme, free and exclusive to CIPR members.

Career Starter is the new mentoring scheme, free and exclusive to CIPR student members.

Both schemes give you complete control to choose the right mentor, and the flexibility to make your mentoring experience work for you.