The Plank Center is committed to developing the next generation of leaders and advancing the profession. It is our honor to recognize six leaders whose commitment to mentoring generates a powerhouse of influence and accelerates success in our profession.
Our question and answer series introduces the 2014 Milestones in Mentoring award recipients.
Meet Andy Polansky.
Andy Polansky is the Chief Executive Officer of Weber Shandwick, a leading global public relations agency with offices in 81 countries around the world.
What does it mean to you to be awarded the “Milestones in Mentoring” award?
It’s an honor to be, in a very small way, associated with Betsy Plank’s legacy. She was an inspiration to public relations professionals, educators and students throughout her career.
When did you realize you were a mentor and leader?
I was in the fortunate position of having been given significant responsibility early in my career, and it always created a self-imposed pressure and desire to be accountable to my clients and my teams and to provide sound counsel and direction.
Describe your role as a mentor.
I see my role as someone who creates “blue sky” or points out where it already exists for professionals seeking new and interesting career opportunities, inside and outside of my firm, Weber Shandwick.
What is the biggest challenge in mentoring?
The biggest challenge is not to impose your own style on someone else. There are many roads to success, and individuals can chart very different pathways as their careers develop. Life and work experience bring some wisdom one can impart, but it’s more important to consider how to apply such perspective to a mentee’s particular aspirations.
What is your advice or tips that you would share with other mentors?
Talk to as many young people as possible. We are in the intellectual capital business, after all, and it’s a great way to discover and develop talent.
What is your advice for mentees (young professionals, students, etc.)?
Intellectually curious individuals in our profession are the ones who often are most successful. Ask lots of questions, listen to people with different points of view to shape your own, and read a lot. On the latter, go deep. Don’t lose sight of reading more in-depth analytical pieces in the face of news bites with flashy headlines on various social media feeds. The former helps shape critical-thinking skills.
What inspires you or motivates you to be a mentor?
I have always enjoyed spending time with young people interested in our field and with people who have different backgrounds, areas of expertise and perspectives. I learn a lot every day, and that inspires me more than anything else. The extent to which I can be helpful in cultivating that great talent is central to what leadership is all about and what makes our organization more vibrant.
Who were your mentors and why?
I feel as if I have learned so much from so many, and continue to do so every day. But I would point to two individuals in particular whose mentorship helped me develop my skills and style. Dick Johnson, who served for many years as Director of Corporate Communications at Ingersoll-Rand Company, was my first client after my move from the journalism world to a public relations agency. While Dick was a brilliant writer and communicator, he demonstrated how emotional intelligence was among the most important qualities in our profession. The importance of listening to and engaging stakeholder groups in productive ways is the foundation of much of our profession’s outreach and advocacy efforts. (He also has taught me a bit about magic, as well.) Harris Diamond, CEO of McCann Worldgroup, has been a business partner for many years, and always leads by example with integrity and in a collaborative, yet decisive manner. I learned a great deal from him in how to lead a highly diversified, global public relations firm.