6 effective ways to build a great mentoring relationship

What makes a good mentor?

I’ve thought about this question a lot since I was asked to be a mentor on the 2020 BME PR Pros Mentoring Scheme.

The scheme aims to increase ethnic diversity in the PR and communications industry, and I was paired with the awesome Corrine Lewis, a Senior Account Executive at global communications agency Burson, Cohn & Wolfe.

It was such an amazing experience – one which gave me more than I expected, including a new community of fellow Black and Brown comms peeps.

I also learned how to build a positive mentoring relationship as a mentor; something I hadn’t had much experience of before.

Here are the top 3 things I tried to do religiously as a mentor that seemed to work. I’ve also invited Corrine to share her top 3 tips for mentees. After all, a relationship is a two-way thing!


Listen, and listen well

Effective and intentional listening is the cornerstone of any (mentoring) relationship. But it ain’t always easy, especially when the other person is shy, nervous or keen to learn as much as possible and so may not say much.

While it may be tempting to fill the silences (guilty!), it’s important you give your mentee space to speak:

  • Wait until they’ve finished speaking before responding
  • Use ‘hmms’ and non-verbal cues to show your engaged
  • Summarise what you think you’ve heard to check your understanding
  • Check what support they’re looking for before charging in with a solution (e.g. practical help or space to rant)

Tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

While it’s human nature to big up our wins and keep schtum about our failures, this approach does your mentee a disservice.

Sharing stories of your campaign flops and tragic job interviews will:

  1. Help your mentee see it’s OK to f things up
  2. Give you both a chance to explore lessons learned from these situations
  3. Give you something to laugh about

Being honest and open with your mentee will also help build mutual respect and trust – another key element of an effective mentoring relationship.

Be prepared

Mentoring is an active, two-way process, so once you’re clear on your mentee’s objectives (a must!) and agreed how best ways of working, it’s time to start planning your sessions.

Depending on your mentee, you may want to focus on one objective per session. Perhaps you’ll include specific activities or conversation starters. Whatever you choose, there is a wealth of available online resources to help you create engaging sessions that will get your mentee closer to their goals.

And now over to you Corrine!

Corrine Lewis from Burson Cohn and Wolfe
Corrine Lewis, Senior Account Executive, Burson Cohn & Wolfe


Embrace the opportunity

Mentoring can be a career-changing experience. Once you secure a mentor, really embrace the opportunity. You’ll only get out of it what you put into it. It’s also important to remember that your mentor is giving up a valuable commodity – their time – to support your development. So try to be grateful and humble; check your ego at the door and come prepared.

Be real, open and honest

Mentoring is a reciprocal working relationship that must be nurtured and developed. As you go through the process, you may find yourself feeling vulnerable when discussing your struggles or concerns. Now your mentor is not your therapist, but being open and honest builds trust and opens up the channels of communication that make for a successful mentorship.

Take responsibility

You’re on a journey, and your mentor holds the map. They can help you decide which routes to take, inspire you to take the roads less travelled and help you avoid dead ends. For them to do that, you need to let them know where you want to go. Take responsibility for your journey by setting clear goals and sharing these with your mentor. The more specific your goals are, the more tailored the guidance you’ll receive.

Find out more about Corrine, including her proudest PR moments and the best brand responses to the Black Lives Matter movement

Useful mentoring resources

Mentoring schemes and services

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