The secret behind true mentorship

It's more than just teaching methodology, says Brand Voice's Syd Kessler. It's about personal relationships too.

This story appears in the February/March 2015 issue of strategy.

By Syd Kessler


One of the greatest assets of a company is its IP.

When I was a co-director of digital strategies at KPMG, we were aware that many of our clients had lost valuable intellectual property when an employee left – everything from methods of implementation and delivery of their products/services to personal information like clients’ kids’ birthdays. This problem holds true in our marcom world of marketers and agency partners. In fact, it is endemic in all industries.

And we identified a possible solution.

Implementing a mentorship program was one key way to keep the transference of information within the company while also instructing the next generation of employees.

But looking back, I realize there was a fatal flaw with this solution. And this is my “bugaboo.”

I believe true mentorship, which can be defined as either a boss-employee relationship or someone who is not necessarily your boss but helps guide your career, must include not only the transference of methodology and other information but also the “know-how” to build and sustain personal relationships.

This is important for two reasons. The first is that knowing the art of personal relations will make an employee a better and more effective team member. And secondly, it has more far-reaching ramifications because we all live holistic lives. That is, we are not only bosses and employees, but husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers and friends. Providing instruction that has relevance to our entire lives creates a more personally fulfilled and better-equipped employee.

If this idea feels nebulous, it shouldn’t because it’s taught in Branding 101.

We are all brands. What people feel about us is the essence of our brand. Successful brands understand this. Trust, care and compassion all lead to forgiveness and sustainability of customer loyalty. Companies like J&J, Amazon, McDonald’s and Apple are a few that understand this power. Some that have not got it right yet include BP and Exxon.

I feel we have a responsibility to teach the next generation how to master personal relationships; a responsibility to teach the skill set to build a powerful and trusting personal brand.

I would like to give you two examples of men I work with who have mastered this understanding: David Kincaid and Sébastien Fauré.

Both have created a group of champions the likes of which I have not seen in my career. Kincaid is the president and CEO of Level5 Strategy Group, and Fauré is CEO of the Montreal-based agency Bleublancrouge.

I am not normally a humble man but I aspire to have their mastery of personal relationships. They understand the innate power of the constancy of honour, transparency and trust. In other words, “they mean what they say and they say what they mean.” So people want to work for them and with them. Very attractive stuff.

Look around you and you may be able to list all the people who fit this description on one hand and I guarantee they are all successful in their fields.

I have been in the marketing service business for most of my career, and from my experience, we are taught the business of marketing (building other people’s brands) but not the rules of engagement to build our own personal brands.

Unfortunately, most of our industries don’t teach the skills to deal with superiors or colleagues who are self-centered, arrogant, disrespectful, incompetent, two-faced, unscrupulous and the list of defects goes on. You get the gist.

As a result, we’ve all suffered in silence or quit those relationships and jobs. Neither are positive outcomes. I discuss this in my book The Perfect System.

So what are the “rules of engagement?” And how can we create work and professional environments that are filled with mutual respect, human dignity and genuine fearless sharing?

As I stated before, these techniques and ideas must be in the mentorship “tent.”

To give you a taste of this knowledge, here is one of the immutable rules, from my perspective, on creating our true and long-lasting relationships:

When you treat somebody in a certain way, they become that way. People react to you the way you treat them. So what you see in front of you is a projection of your behaviour. If you don’t like what you see, change what you project.

We all make great ads, create exceptional strategies, provide valuable products and services. But what about our relationships? What do people think of our personal brands? Are these as strong and enduring?

Syd_Kessler photo head shot (1)Syd Kessler is a recent inductee into the Marketing Hall of Legends and a prolific author on consciousness and behaviour.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock