Marketing Insights Podcast

May 16, 2023


Shanita Akintonde:

Hi, this is Shanita Akintonde, educator, author, career coach, and marketing shero. I invite you to join me for this very special edition of my Marketing Insights podcast series entitled Mentoring Matters, Part Deux. As many listeners prepare to pomp the circumstance across stages, grassy lawns, and virtual screens, whether perched on monitors or held in hands, beset with happiness, joy, and in some cases disbelief. I thought it an opportune time to attune your eardrums and interlocked auditory lobes to a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Wait for it... Mentoring. I bring it from back to front and back once again as May is the month of celebrating, and not just my birthday y'all, although I do that the entire month.

It is the time of year in which the class of 2023, which includes many of you, marketing maestros, as well as my youngest son, may benefit from gaining another perspective on the role a mentor can play in assuring that everything from office plants to the boss's favorite pet, including chihuahuas, enjoy the right temperature in the hypothetical workplace whirlpool.

As a 30 plus year working professional, my career has been quite the ride. My professional trajectory includes creating award-winning advertising and public relations campaigns for global agencies like Burrell Communications Group, Porter Novelli, the Chicago Tribune, DDB, and now as president of Shanita Speaks LLC, where I advise clients on how to become better brand leaders, strategically communicate that coveted position to others while serving as leadership role models along the way.

Speaking of role models, I've had a fair share of my own, and in many cases, those individuals became mentors as well. In fact, my mentors are the ones who pushed me to the next level in a different way than my parents did. Mentors saw things I didn't see in myself in a professional setting. Before there were clients like McDonald's, Sprite, Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, and McGraw Hill in my repertoire, things got off, shall we say, to an interesting start. Allow me to share my story.

I grabbed my first paid gig at 16. I worked at the now defunct Montgomery Ward department store. I was a sales clerk. I sold fine jewelry. My job was to tout the benefits of a Seiko watch versus a Timex, showcase silver, gold, and rose-colored chain necklaces whose thickness ranged from a term called ropes to those with such thin transparency, I felt if I sneezed, [inaudible 00:04:09], the wisp of material would vanish into thin air...poof. Each day I worked, I meticulously set each of those jewel jello strings into an ocean size display case. And occasionally, I replaced a watch battery. I stood behind smudge-free glass countertops, courtesy of my almost obsessive regular wipe downs, wearing one of my best skirt and top ensembles, mind you, like my pink and burgundy argyle sweater combo. Thank you very much. And I smiled a lot, a lot, a lot.

Montgomery Ward housed diamond jewelry too, or as members of my community called the store chain, Montgomery Wards. The additional letter to the second half of the store's moniker was more than mispronunciation. It was declarative. The S stood for sauce. To people in my community, it meant we owned the department store in a similar vein that black people laid proprietorship over Mickey D's. A visit to the latter entity was a treat in my family and one I took very seriously. Happy Meals gloriously upheld their dietetic duty in my eyes. French fries were apt crispy tailor soldiers. Working at a store whose catalogs were coveted documents in my home, and in many other national neighborhoods, was an enviable position, much like it was eating a Happy Meal at Mickey D's. But I had no idea what I was doing. It wasn't until one of my colleagues, a round bearded gentleman with hair the color of a salt and pepper shaker, minus the pepper, and a face that matched, pulled me aside and asked, "How's it going?"

I felt instant relief. All the fear and frustration I had bottled up inside of me like a shaken up can of Coca-Cola [inaudible 00:06:30] tumbled out of my mouth. I shared my angst over not knowing the real difference between watch brands. I balled, ugh, as I explained how I accidentally caused a thin gold chain to slip through a little crack on the side of the display case on my first day wiping the glass window down. "There there," Santa's twin told me in a soothing tone. "Stop worrying. You're doing a great job. Come over here." He was standing near the display case. "Oh no," I panicked. He's about to shout across the store and tell everybody about my mistake.

Instead, St. Nick pulled a set of keys from his pocket, opened doors underneath the structure, and retrieved the forlorn chain. "Happens all the time," he shrugged. "I keep telling them to seal that crack." I stood in place statue still. "By the way," he continued. "My regular customers keep telling me what a great smile you have." I thought, "What you talking about Willis?" Then I smiled. Papa Noel and I were dill pickle juice and potato chips after that. He taught me all he knew about fine jewelry and watches, which was a lot. We ate lunch together. I especially liked it when we did so at Lindy's, the best spot for Chicago-style hotdogs. Apparently, Kris Kringle's beard thought so too. Although I never got access to the diamond case, that area was reserved for a select group of sales clerks because that team received salary and commission, I was delighted to have my own gem in the form of my first mentor.

Many mentors followed, including many within the marketing community. Some are official, others unofficial. Regardless, they serve as role models and envelope pushers. They helped me secure my first gig post-college and my second. Today, I credit my mentors with teaching me how to do everything from write a marketing strategy to honing a news release to dealing with a sensitive client issue instead of having to call the police. As a tenured professor for nearly 25 years, I also have a surplus of mentoring experiences in other capacities as well. I directed thousands of young minds from the classroom to the boardroom, as I like to say, including many marketing students.

I conducted several research studies about career mentoring too. Both of my sons, Jimmy, 26, and Anthony, 22, serve as youth mentors. The apple doesn't fall too far from the treasure trove. One of my co-authored books, Where Leadership Fails: Individual, Group and Organizational Lessons from the Worst Workplace Experiences delves into the importance of mentoring in the workplace. Allow me to share a few tenets from my written text as it pertains to what good mentors do, just like my own personal Santa Claus did for me. Number one, good mentors point mentees in the direction of their dreams. Number two, good mentors acknowledge who their mentees are. That's a big one. And number three, good mentors help shape their protege's career development.

When seeking out your own mentors, marketing maestros, be sure that all three of those boxes are checked, if not simultaneously, at some point in your mentoring process relatively soon. All told, mentors come in all forms, shapes, colors, and creeds. When the employee is ready, the mentor often appears. Successful mentoring is contingent upon four stages: initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition. If you want to learn more about these four phases, visit Emerald Publishing and look for my research about mentoring entitled, On the Front Porch, Out the Back Door: How Mentoring Mishaps Derail Next Generation Leaders. Or you can simply go back and check out my original Marketing Insights podcast on the topic entitled Mentoring Matters.

I produced Mentoring Matters about five years ago, but the content still applies today, as does what I shared here with you in this special edition of my Marketing Insights podcast series entitled Mentoring Matters, Part Deux. That's because mentoring continues to matter, as do each and every one of you, dear listeners, as each and every one of you do too.

Until next time, which will be our best time, this is Shanita Akintonde, professor, author, career coach and marketing shero signing off. If you enjoy listening to these podcasts, be sure to subscribe on Stitcher, iTunes, or Google Play and like them wherever you hear them. Connect with me on LinkedIn at Professor Shanita Akintonde, or follow me on Twitter @_ShanitaSpeaks.