Sometimes just one person can help you see things differently and turn your professional life around.
You’re faced with a particular challenge. Imagine a leader who, instead of giving you guidance, simply tells you what she did in a similar situation she faced. You realise she expects you to learn from her experiences, apply the wisdom gained to your own situation and set your own direction.
Do you feel it would be difficult to work under such a leader?
Most people may think so but this kind of unconventional leadership is precisely what differentiates a leader from a mentor. What you learn from others’ experiences (and even mistakes) are much more valuable than simply following instructions.
Much has been said about mentors and how valuable they are in guiding you. They are not only there for you to bounce ideas off and voice your concerns to, but are also a font of wisdom, offering advice that can light the way ahead, especially when you try something new.
I’d read and heard all this before, but I didn’t really appreciate how one person can transform your career and set you on the road to success until I had my very own superhero mentor.
It was at Wunderman that I experienced first-hand the power of mentorship. Amy Slayter, my manager, had a unique leadership style and rich experiences that helped me discover and call forth my true potential. It also taught me some important mentorship lessons.
Tip 1: Focus on the person, not just their work
I joined Wunderman as an account manager, and was responsible for improving the efficiency of the Xbox account. Amy’s duties as the Regional Business Director kept her very busy but no matter how packed her calendar was, she would make time to meet me once a week.
What struck me then was her personalised and informal approach. My previous managers had focused mostly on my work performance. Amy, however, made an effort to keep herself updated on how I was coping with my new responsibilities and was concerned if I was held back by any challenges. This made her more of a confidant than a boss.
Tip 2: Encourage your team to be bold with their ideas
As a junior then, my natural instinct was to discuss my business ideas no higher than Amy. She gave me the confidence to open up, present my ideas to senior management, and execute my plans to fruition.
Amy once told me: “People in Asia have good ideas, but are scared to take ownership and follow through with it.”
My wunder-ful colleagues at Wunderman
Amy believed that anyone – senior, junior or intern - could bring fresh ideas to the table. From her I learnt the importance of a collaborative environment where everyone can confidently have their say, leading to fresh thinking across the organisation.
Tip 3: Think about your team’s career progression
Amy encouraged me to think about my long-term career journey. She would discuss career milestones I could aim for and encouraged me to think about the skill sets needed to achieve them. This helped me set my own career direction and think about how to proactively take responsibility for my own success.
Tip 4: Leverage cultural differences and be open to new ways of doing things
When I reflect on my working relationship with Amy, I think what made a huge impact was the fact that Amy was from a different cultural background and saw things through a different lens. She was able to objectively recognise our strengths and weaknesses as a culture and think of ways to capitalise on or overcome them. This gave me a clear view of what should be strengthened, discarded and maintained.
For example, Amy appreciated the disciplined working style and adherence to processes that can be observed in many companies here. However, working with her made me realise that we need to sometimes work around processes to maximise efficiency. Most advertising agencies spend half a day finding someone to address a client’s brief. Amy, however, would quickly gather everyone for a 10-minute brainstorm to get their thoughts on the brief.
Amy had also worked in other countries like Thailand and the US, so her experience and views on engaging with people of different nationalities were insightful. I was tasked with managing regional client accounts, and she helped me understand that cultural backgrounds do influence working styles and that we needed to customise our approach to succeed as a team. This gem of wisdom guides me even today when I manage my current team.
The mentee becomes the mentor
I had gained much from being mentored, and this had ignited in me a desire to guide others. As Head of Digital Production at Prodigious, I consider my team members my protégés. Some of my initiatives were largely inspired by Amy’s mentorship style. To this day, I have weekly chats with my team, focusing on them and not just their work. I also assist them in their career progression.
My current team at Prodigious
Having been both a mentee and a mentor, I strongly believe in the positive influence a mentor can be. The mentorship lessons I learnt from Amy guide me even today as I, in turn, try daily to be a superhero mentor to my own team members.
Ed Shaheed is the Head of Digital Production at creative agency Prodigious Worldwide in Singapore. Previously in tech, Ed joined the advertising industry in 2013, with stints at EG+ Worldwide and Wunderman before taking on his current role.