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FBNBank Ghana MD Victor Yaw Asante writes: The mentorship conundrum

“Iron sharpens iron; so, one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

I am certain that many have come to accept that mentorship, when delivered properly, is a key component of many a journey to the top. Anytime I hear someone speak about having a passion for mentorship, I see one who has benefitted from it.

Perhaps because of my first job at Unilever Ghana where the culture of mentorship was a core offering, I am big on mentorship. Also, when I speak of mentorship, I make a differentiation between that and coaching.

I think Oprah Winfrey captures who a mentor is well when she describes a mentor as someone who allows you to see the hope in yourself.

To find a verse in scripture for it; “walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” (Proverbs 13:20)

A coach on the other hand, to quote Bill McCartney, is someone taking a player where he cannot take himself.

Again, to quote scripture, “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

And therefore, while a good mentor may be offering you directions from the back seat while you drive the car, a coach may well be in the front seat with you with one hand on the steering wheel.

Mentorship is receiving a lot of attention as people come to see it as a very effective way of practically learning how to excel from people who have done it. Indeed, it has become fashionable for everyone to look for a mentor for themselves. Sometimes multiple mentors. Usually, all with very similar credentials and almost identical career paths.

The emerging problem with mentorship is that some mentees now assume it is a shortcut to success. Typically, when someone says to you “can you mentor me?” they don’t mean “can I stay close to you so that I learn a thing or two from you while I try to get things done myself.” Often, what they want is a faster way to get where you are on either your professional or social ladder. They want your patronage. They want access to your network. They want a godfather or godmother. They become serial motivation speaking session attendees, seeking rags to riches outcomes. No one even wants to hear that success comes in many forms and not necessarily, literally as a top person in one’s profession.

There are many who also offer themselves to be mentored and then proceed to download all their troubles, from financial to social onto the Mentor. If, for example, you advise that some extra education is needed you even get asked to pay for application forms followed by an expectation to foot a substantial part of the study bill.

Maybe some mentors have also confused their roles to go beyond soft guidance and the deliberate creation of time to discuss goals, agree objectives, shape journeys, provide an objective basis for a constant review of those journeys and help to recalibrate where necessary. Some mentees want to be clones of their mentors, and the mentors set out to create them in their own image instead of offering them the opportunities to create themselves.

Plato tells us, “Do not train a child to learn by force of harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar best of the genius of each.”

I should not aim to create a successful banker out of my mentee but a successful professional pursuing what they love to do. I should not let my mentee expect to lead an organization to see themselves as successful, but to give them the guidance that ensures they become the very best versions of themselves.

The habits of successful people are similar. The journey and the destination however may differ, because copying every habit does not mean the outcome will be the same.

My early Mentors at Unilever were blunt and brutal. They told me to put in the hours and exemplified it themselves. They told me to feed my mind always and they gave me copies of the books they read. They asked me to self-appraise and to benchmark with others to see how well I was doing. They steered me to personal gap analysis that I may know my strengths and my weaknesses so I could project my strength and work on reducing the impact of my weaknesses.

They also taught me to be confident and explained to me that preparation and practice made one confident and it was never by osmosis. They made me appreciate that success is not inherited, it is earned.

The mentors I was privileged to have embraced play, but they let it be known that you only play after work. In that order.

One key thing great Mentors know is that reverse mentoring is real. In learning, you will teach and in teaching you will learn.

Reverse mentoring is a great way for the older generation to get insights into the current generation. How else do you get to know what the current generation values and how to communicate with them? All generations must understand each other, and mentoring facilitates this process.

A Mentor-Mentee relationship is therefore mutually beneficial. In mentoring therefore, we get mentored. Also, in being mentored, we can mentor.

The role of mentoring is too important to be devalued to the extent that it becomes only a relationship in name, or a platform for asking for resources. A mentor is not a sponsor.

Ghana has a large youth population and there must be a deliberate effort to foster mentorship. We must return to the well planned, well executed form of mentorship and avoid the patronage version that is becoming common place.

Every leader must play a role in mentoring and must ensure that the mentees do it for the right reasons and reap the benefits that a good programme delivers. And mentors must commit to the process and reap the benefits of reverse mentoring.

Ghana, like every country needs to get its mentoring programs right. Let us not end up with a bastardized version of a universally useful tool.


WRITER: Victor Yaw Asante |  MD/CEO FBNBank Ghana

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