Katie Mallinson, Scriba PR

How to find the right professional mentor

In the world of business, you often hear company figureheads talking of their mentors. A trusted partner can act as a sounding board for your most ambitious plans, as well as a sense-check to remain focused on targets. But, when it comes to a dependable advisor, how do you find ‘the one’?

You don’t necessarily need to look for the person with the most glowing resume, the highly-decorated entrepreneur, or the one your friend swears by – the right-hand man (or woman) is in fact a completely subjective decision. Scriba boss Katie Mallinson recently spoke to WeAreTechWomen about how to find the one for you. 

It took me a while to find the right mentor. Over the years, I was introduced to lots of people – each with varying levels of experience and differing specialisms – and often felt as though they were right for me on paper, but not in practice.

For instance, there was a hugely successful man who had a list of credentials as long as your arm. I liked and respected him, but his view of what constitutes an outstanding business was so far removed from mine. He didn’t understand the importance of having a creative space for colleagues, or a welcoming environment for clients – we just didn’t gel.

So, what makes a good mentor?

I found my answer in Natasha McCreesh of PiP to Grow Strong. Her approach is one which places a lot of emphasis on the role people play in a business journey, and that you can work hard and have a good time while doing it.

For me, I always wanted Scriba to be a company with soul, which lives through its values. Natasha has a background in marketing – so understands our world – but she also cares about workplace wellbeing and team dynamics, which is very close to my own heart. She doesn’t profess to know the answers, but instead leads me along a path and gives me things to think about.

Also, a friend and I mentor each other from time to time. We’re both in similar, but not competing, businesses and will share work and ideas – as well as frustrations. It’s helpful to have someone to meet up with for a coffee and a chat because you often realise that you’re not alone in the challenges you face!

How did you find the right person for you?

You firstly have to identify what it is you want to achieve from your mentoring, as well as the qualities – and respect – in someone you might pay to give advice. It’s also important to bear in mind that one person might not encompass everything you’re looking for, so it’s okay to have more than one confidante.

The key thing though, is not to think this person is going to be a magician. There’s no ‘quick fix’, and you need to commit the time and energy to uphold your end of the bargain. That person is there to challenge and hold you to account, so prepare to be uncomfortable at times, and make space in your schedule to do the ‘homework’ you’ll be set following each session.

Are you a mentor for anyone else?

In the first instance, and as a business owner, I hope that my colleagues will see me as a mentor rather than ‘the boss’. We each bring different skills and experience to Scriba – no one has a formal PR qualification as we have different communication backgrounds – and I like to bring those together to help us grow as a collective.

We’re really open about our personal and professional development plans at work, including my own. We don’t just look at workplace smarts, but personal things such as confidence, insecurity, handling conflict, and message delivery.

Throughout school, college and university, I used to hold voluntary sessions for children with special educational needs, helping them to become more confident readers and providing them with a coping mechanism if they got stuck.

Now, I’m a governor at Greenhead College and support a young entrepreneurs’ initiative at the University of Huddersfield, so still spend time with young people across the region during this crucial developmental stage in their lives.

How important is it to have a professional mentor?

I think it completely depends on the individual. Personally, I enjoy learning and it’s important for me to feel prepared to handle any situation I might come across. As such, my mentor keeps me on my toes!

It’s also quite a fulfilling feeling to have done what has been asked of me – or challenged on why I might not have done something. Natasha can be frank and will speak the inner truth that you often know, but maybe don’t readily admit.

While this kind of approach might not be for everyone, I see a value in reflecting in order to be able to look ahead. I reflect regularly and new scenario plan as standard – I have done for years.

What should you look for in a trusted partner?

You can never know who to trust completely, but you need to be comfortable in what is disclosed. I know I can tell Natasha anything, but I didn’t when we first met. That comes with time.

I’m incredibly confident in Scriba, and the elements which give us our competitive advantage are things you can’t mimic, at least, not in the long-term. People may discuss someone else’s idea for an innovation – breaking a corporate confidence – but when it comes to the DNA of your business, that can’t be copied.

Do you think group mentoring sessions are important too?

In terms of growing as a team and empowering colleagues, internal group sessions play a vital role in making everyone feel invested in what you’re doing.

I’m also a supporter of a peer-to-peer event, the MMB Lunch Club – which I’ve helped to bring to Huddersfield – where business owners and managers come together over good food and a spot of wine! 12 of us sit around the table and have a genuinely honest discussion about a topical business theme, speaking openly, asking questions and giving advice. There’s no ‘one-upmanship’ at these gatherings, only people willing to share their experience with others and genuinely help.

Any final words of advice?

Some people think that scenario-planning is a waste of time, but it has taught me to plan for every possibility, because it will make you more resilient when you need to face the unexpected.

And, you don’t always need to give someone the official title of ‘mentor’, in order for them to play that role in your life. I have someone I click with and have a lot of respect and admiration for – and we’ve been through some similar professional challenges.