By Simba Mswaka
A mentorship is a relationship between two people where the individual with more experience, knowledge, and connections is able to pass along what they have learned to a more junior individual within a certain field. The more senior individual is the mentor, and the more junior individual is the mentee.
The purpose of a mentor is to help you grow as a person and become the best version of yourself. This may involve helping you achieve your personal or career goals, introducing you to new ways of thinking, challenging your limiting assumptions, sharing valuable life lessons, and much more.
For the mentee, a mentorship relationship creates a big brother/big sister relationship that will enhance the learning of the mentee and help them with key life or business decisions. Mentees should seek mentors that are not only just successful, but who have walked a similar path and may have faced the same challenges in their own lives.
It is said that “Smart people learn from their mistakes and wise people learn from the mistakes of others”. A good mentor will help a young mentee to avoid mistakes and expedite the process to success.
Mentorship can be a paid experience in some cases but this poses its own conundrum, the mentor is motivated by money and therefore they may not be as brutally honest as they need to be. In the event that they are honest, the mentee may go elsewhere and they may not want that because it is a loss of income. In other instances, mentors will be paid in equity of between 1% to 7% and sometimes even as high as 10% or 20% where the mentor then proceeds to become a business advisor.
The time frame of mentorship relationships can vary and they can last months, years or even a lifetime because everyone needs guidance as they venture into the unknown that we call life and building a business.
The following examples of famous mentorship relationships really show some of the who’s who of business and politics. Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs, Bill Gates has Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey had Maya Angelou and President Ed Mnangagwa had the late former President Robert Mugabe.
Mentoring also provides the mentor with numerous benefits, including enhancement of his or her own personal and professional knowledge while teaching and learning from the mentee. By providing guidance, support, advice, strategic feedback, and other insights to a mentee, the mentor can learn and enhance their own leadership skills.
Mentees often bring a fresh perspective to a difficult problem because of their younger age in general and serving as a mentor can also provide a renewed sense of purpose. There is also potential for the mentee and the mentor to collaborate in years to come, the opportunities can be endless. Most of all, a mentor is provided with an important sense of satisfaction in contributing to a legacy of developing the next generation of leaders.
Mentors also require skill in developing others and a desire to make a difference. They also need the important and very real skills of: active listening, asking powerful, open-ended questions, self-reflection, providing feedback and being able to share stories that include personal anecdotes, case examples, and honest insight.
Nobody wants to expose themselves in front of anybody else because showing vulnerability can be painful, but being able to do this with a mentor and them providing valuable feedback is what makes these types of relationships special.
One of the most powerful exhibits for mentorship was during a segment of ‘The Shop’ on HBO. The segment spoke about when NBA players boycotted the playoffs because of the shooting of Jacob Blake. This was a tragic event and was uncharted territory for these sportsmen and they needed some kind of direction during this protest.
It’s no use protesting and not being able to leverage that or even know what exactly you are doing. This burden fell on all the players involved in the protest but the largest burden definitely fell on the most visible and popular players, namely LeBron James. LeBron understood this was not his expertise and in the middle of the night, he made a phone call to Former President Barack Obama to seek guidance and clarity on what him and his colleagues should do. They had the attention of the country and now they had to make it count.
Former President Obama proceeded to give LeBron advice on what they should request, the options they have and valuable insights that they would unlikely get amongst each other. Obama has negotiated deals with some of the most powerful people in the world and he has had to make some of the toughest decisions during his eight years in office.
This scenario is an example of having a mentor/big brother who has walked in much bigger boots. We all don’t need a mentor but they really come through with brilliant insights. LeBron and company just happened to have a very smart man on hand to help him.
The Mentoring Relationship
A mentoring relationship must be managed and nurtured. It is a joint venture that requires both parties to actively attend to its care and feeding. The chances of creating and sustaining a successful mentoring relationship are enhanced by adopting a few simple best practices:
Design The Alliance: Take the time to discuss the structure of the relationship. Both parties need to have a shared understanding of the relationship process. This means discussing and articulating things like:
The kind of Contact and response times, who is in charge of communication and the medium of communication, email, text or phone call. Response times should also be agreed upon as both parties are busy and this is generally the case for mentors.
Meeting protocols need to be agreed upon in terms of place to meet, time and length of meeting, frequency and whether in person or virtually. This allows each party to adequately prepare for their engagement.
Confidentiality is important and this must be discussed so that both parties know what is shareable and what must remain in house.
Focus of the Mentorship: This is to ensure expectations are clear for both parties and they know the parameters of the mentorship. It’s difficult for one mentor to provide mentorship for every single issue, therefore focus helps ensure that the mentor and mentee make the relationship effective. The mentor and mentee should articulate what they hope to get out of the experience.
Feedback: What are the expectations around giving and receiving feedback? This is crucial as the relationship progresses and moves forward.
Accountability: Each party has to hold the other accountable and rules of engagement need to be discussed for this.
Monitoring & Evaluation. Every few meetings, one (or both) of the parties should ask: “How
is this going for you? What’s been helpful? What could I do differently to make this a more rewarding experience?” As awkward as it may feel, initiating evaluative conversations will keep the relationship working for both parties.
Mentees and mentors should also clearly articulate their appreciation for the other. Be specific about what you learned and gained from the experience.
Whether you are the mentor or the mentee, a mentorship relationship is a win-win for your career.
In my own experience mentorship relationships have failed because of a lack of clear rules of engagement. In some instances, the mentee will not be consistent and in other cases I will be too busy. But as a person who has been on both sides, mentorship has really helped navigate some difficult challenges.
I am always in search of wise mentors to provide a great sounding board for the rest of my professional career and I believe every startup founder or businessperson should get themselves one. There is so much expert knowledge that needs to be mined by our youth on the road to success.
Simba is the Programs and Partnerships Manager of Tech Hub Harare. He is a Startup Mentor and Advisor. He can be reached on Twitter: @DrMswagga and on Linkedin