Mentorship: The lifeblood of skills development

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There are business coaches, life coaches, self-help groups that claim to put people on the right path – and all may have their place. However, Deon Oberholzer, Director at ProudAfrique Human Capital, says the mentor is a different animal entirely… and the lifeblood of skills development.

Anyone who saw the late Robin Williams playing educator John Keating in the film Dead Poets Society encouraging the young scholars by saying “Carpe Diem”, Latin for “seize the day”, will understand the impact true mentorship can have on someone.

In this case it was students, but young people entering the workplace also need mentors, I believe, in a relationship built with someone far more experienced than they are. This is not just about the workplace, but about business as a whole; ethics; values; and learning to hold oneself to higher standards than others may hold you to.

There are a couple of things required for a positive mentor-mentee relationship, and not everyone has the type of character it takes to be a mentor, but anyone willing to listen and learn can be a mentee.

In dealing with clients who are mentoring young workers or potential staff members, ProudAfrique Human Capital encourages a few steps the company should take to create a platform for mentorship. They include:

  • Setting up a formal structure that requires the time and effort of all participants to be noted so the relationship doesn’t get set aside by the thief of quality time, “too busy”. This could be an hour before or after work, at work or in a coffee shop, but it must be where the mentor and mentee can talk without distraction
  • Note aims or goals your mentorship should achieve, from the mentor and the mentee
  • Make sure both parties trust each other and are a fit personality-wise
  • Just as you can’t stay fit on last week’s gym session, you cannot stay motivated and enthusiastic unless there is ongoing learning and accomplishment. Mentorship is an investment by the company and the mentor in the personal and professional growth of the mentee.

In the time of the old-fashioned apprenticeships, the apprentice was allocated a Foreman, to whom he or she reported. When the Foreman asked for a specific job to be dome, the apprentice did it, trusting that the Foreman was aware of the workload and not questioning the requirement.

When the apprentice faltered work-wise, it was the Foreman he or she approached for guidance. Without taking advantage of his or her position, the Foreman expected to be listened to, heard, and to have their advice taken seriously.

Could you be a mentor?

In business today, the best type of mentor is someone who has a keen interest in the success of the younger staff member; the knowledge that the incumbent must still learn; and the ability to communicate effectively to impart that knowledge. It is this imparting of knowledge that develops the mind and the industry and, as I say, the lifeblood of its future.

Essential skills for a mentor include:

  • Passion and enthusiasm for work, life and helping others
  • Humility, knowing that even the teacher can learn from the student
  • A willingness to “give back” for no financial reward, but much satisfaction in their mentee’s progress
  • The ability to understand where a mentee is now and not measure his/her progress against the yardstick of their own years of progress
  • The person being mentored must trust that what the mentor is teaching him or her is valuable to their work, career and/or life, and value the time and effort this person is putting in to their success.

I believe that learning should continue throughout life and that nobody is ever too smart to need a mentor. It would be like a young artist setting up an easel and Van Gogh walks into the room and offers help… but the younger artist turns him away, noting that he/she has had some lessons and knows what they’re doing.