By Jenica Foster
The first Sunday of every month at 3:00 p.m., Krista Ellingson and Andrew Smith cleared their calendars to talk. They discussed challenges at work, successes, and the general state of the industry, always ensuring to carve out time for each other despite whatever else was going on in their personal and professional lives.
Ellingson and Smith were paired together in the 2017/18 IABC/Calgary mentorship program. Smith was looking for guidance on how the skills he learned in his role for a member services organization at the University of Calgary over the past seven years could be transferred to other positions within the ever-changing industry.
As the director of corporate communications for Brookfield Residential, Ellingson said she wanted to give back to the community she practiced in.
“I think he really felt there was value to him to have a peer to connect with who understood his work environment, but also to give him some insights into what is different and what’s in common from larger organizations, and through that experience he developed a sense of communications community,” Ellingson said, who fulfilled a similar role at U of C over 20 years ago.
ANDREW SMITH ON BUILDING CONNECTION
Contravening the traditional notion of an experienced mentor guiding an inexperienced mentee, both Ellingson and Smith are in their 40s and have complementary backgrounds. Smith started his career as a multimedia specialist, while Ellingson has always identified as a generalist with a preference to work for large, complex organizations. Although at different points in their career journeys, Smith said, “Going into a program as a mentee my initial thought was I’m 42 and I’d been in some sort of a communications role for almost 20 years. I just kind of thought well maybe it was for somebody younger and just starting within their careers.”
ANDREW SMITH ON STEREOTYPES
Age simply isn’t a factor. Both parties were able to learn from each other; Ellingson improved her active listening skills and ability to guide others towards leadership, while Smith received validation and confidence in his skills.
KRISTA ELLINGSON ON STEPPING BACK
The success of this mentor/mentee relationship wasn’t in having a strict agenda for each meeting, but in the commitment they made to each other at the beginning of the program. Ellingson likened it to going to the gym and taking the time to invest in themselves.
KRISTA ELLINGSON ON INVESTING IN YOURSELF
During these meetings, Smith said he realized how secluded he had been from other communicators over the years, and he was able to gain the confidence to apply for a new job. Smith is now a communications advisor for Shaw Communications.
“I’m walking away from this program feeling much more confident with my skillset and my role and understanding what communications for organizations is and probably should be,” Smith said.