Do you have the right mentor?

The ideal version of you… Simryn de Jager, business development and strategy director of The Seed SA.

The Seed SA team is often approached by ambitious people who seek a mentor.

It has, after all, been the motivation behind much of what we do. Marsha Sinetar in her book Mentor Spirit describes a mentor as “… a guide or a teacher – a keeper of selective ‘wisdoms’ that we hope to gain”.

Some of the biggest inhibitors to the seeker are that the mentor will decline the proposal or that the relationship will not meet the desired outcomes. These are very valid concerns. The possibility that the time and effort will not bear fruit is possibly the most anxiety-inducing. There are several reasons why the mentorship relationship may not work. Let’s look at three of these.

The outcomes are not clear to both parties

It is imperative to define a clear agenda. Is the reason for the mentorship to develop soft skills or to spur on hard technical thinking? In other words, are you approaching this person because they display leadership traits that you admire or because they are leaders in your field? These are very important distinctions to make that could define success. Make your reasons for reaching out clear to your mentor early on in the conversation. This sets the framework for the discussion and allows your mentor to better understand your intentions.

The seeker or mentee has not done adequate research on the potential mentor

Your potential mentor may be a great leader, however, this cannot be interpreted to mean that he or she is a great mentor. The mentor responsibility is a weighty one, and not everyone who has knowledge to impart has a desire to enter into this form of guiding and teaching relationship. Be clear on the desire to participate.

The seeker or mentee has unrealistic expectations of the mentor

Often the mentor is idealised. This may lead to long-term disillusionment resulting from a mentor behaving in a way that does not align with your idealised version of them. No one is perfect. The mentor may need to reschedule owing to other priorities, or their circumstances may change, making the arrangement less amenable. Your mentor may prefer to let their hair down on the weekends by playing in a rock band or taking classes as a sommelier. Neither of these activities translates to them being less of a business leader.

Most importantly, defining the framework as mentioned above, allows the parties to make realistic pacts as to specific help the mentor can provide. Don’t look for all parts of your ideal ‘future-self’ in one person. It is a recipe for disappointment. Seek multiple mentors to stitch together that ideal version of you.

I have found one of my mentors to offer a healthy balance to work and play, while another has taught me the value of always delivering more than what was expected. Neither of them is a poster-child for the ideal leader but rather have offered expertise in their particular fields.

Remember that mentorship works when both parties are engaged and eager to make a difference. It is a professional arrangement much like any other contract you may enter into. The mentor buys into the mentee and gives discretionary effort, in response to enthusiasm and responsiveness from the mentee.

These steps are key: Establish a goal; develop a plan; build in checkpoints.


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