Finding a Mentor

Published by mpume on

In my language, Zulu there is a proverb that says ‘indlela ibuzwa kwabaphambili’ and loosely translated it means ‘the way is asked from those who are in front’ meaning ask the way from the people that have walked in front of you.

This makes a lot of sense to me to be guided by the people that have walked the path. I believe in ease and finding easier ways of doing things, so it makes sense to me to find somebody who has walked the path to guide me or help me navigate it then trying to figure it out on my own.
What I am very clear about is that I don’t know what I don’t know so any help and guidance are welcomed. So, having a mentor for me means I have someone that I can bounce off my ideas on, I can ask for their learnings in specific stuff, they can share their wisdom and experiences with me. The trick is how and where do you find somebody to be this person for you.

I always tell the story of my mentor when I started working at Unilever and his name was Willie Scherzer who was the Group CFO at the time. He is the man that impacted my life and guided me to understand corporate. His influence and power opened doors for and helped me with one of the modules that had given me grey hairs in my degree, anyway that is a story for another day. Anyway, some people are allocated mentors when they enter corporate as part of any graduate programme or you can go out and look for a mentor on your own.

Here are a few things to consider when looking for a mentor:

  • Be clear about why you need a mentor?
    A mentor can help with different things in your life, but you need to be clear about what you need help with. I have had situations when people ask me to mentor them and when I ask what they need help with they are unable to answer me. You need to realize that most people are busy, so you don’t want to be wasting their time.

  • Be clear about why you want that particular person to mentor you?
    Why are choosing them, what do you admire about them that you have decided to choose them? My current mentor is female she used to be a CEO and a board member of a powerful company. When I met her, I admired the work she had done and how humble she was. I admired that she had walked the journey that I would like to walk and who better than her to guide me.

  • Be clear on your expectations upfront
    When you are clear on your expectations upfront the mentor can tell you whether they can commit to them or not. How many times would you like to meet, for how long, etc? Commit to having an agenda for your meetings and send it out at least 48 hours before the meeting so that you give the mentor ideas of what you want to talk about and they can maybe think it over before the session.
    To benefit from a mentorship relationship be consistent, professional, have clear objectives/goals, be vulnerable with your mentor, and be comfortable with sharing your fears and challenges.

Do you have a mentor? What value have you found useful from having a mentorship relationship?


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