Boxing clever: Redefine Properties chairman Marc Wainer says his new television show The Mentorship Challenge will facilitate a much-needed opportunity for prominent business people to share their skills with talented youth. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Boxing clever: Redefine Properties chairman Marc Wainer says his new television show The Mentorship Challenge will facilitate a much-needed opportunity for prominent business people to share their skills with talented youth. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Rhodes Business School recently hosted Redefine Properties executive chairman Marc Wainer, who hosts CNBC’s Mentorship Challenge.

Over the course of a day and a half Wainer, who has more than 40 years’ business, investment and entrepreneurial experience, held sessions with Grahamstown school principals, enterprise management and master of business administration students, residents, grade 11 and 12 pupils and student leaders of university societies with an interest in entrepreneurship and business.

He spoke about the critical role of mentorship in the lives of young people wanting to make a start in life and highlighted several mentoring facts that are so important people need constant reminders about them.

Many people have had the benefit of a formal or informal mentor at some stage, and they need to give back.

Wherever he presents, just as he does on the Mentorship Challenge, Wainer challenges all people with a track record of excellence to offer mentoring hours. They can do this separately or as part of the Mentorship Challenge, which matches them with mentees who have applied on the show’s website.

Effective mentoring

It’s a powerful way of creating and proliferating mentor and mentee networks and offering a forum for young entrepreneurs.

Signing up is one thing; understanding what it takes to be an effective mentor is another. The key to mentoring, Wainer explained, is a basis of mutual respect, trust and good communication. These qualities are reflected in the origin of the word "mentor". In Greek mythology Mentor was a loyal friend and adviser to the King of Ithaca, Odysseus.

While Odysseus was away fighting the Trojan War, Mentor helped raise Odysseus’s son, Telemachus. Such was his trust in Mentor that Odysseus welcomed Mentor’s role as Telemachus’s teacher, coach, counselor and protector.

Through this, Mentor and Telemachus built a relationship based on affection and trust. Hence the modern definition of mentor as "a wise and trusted counselor or teacher".

Taking this further, in an article in the Harvard Business Review on January 23, psychology professor W Brad Johnson from the US Naval Academy and sociology professor David G Smith from the US War College explained that "the best mentors think like Michelangelo".

"Michelangelo approached the craft of sculpting with the humble conviction that a beautiful piece of art already existed within the stone, and his job was only to release it. The best mentors approach their art in the same way," they write.

Wainer spoke about how people have individual talents and individual ways of being in the world, yet when people encounter others who think or look or behave differently, they all too often compartmentalise them as being "not like us" or "weird" or "a trouble maker".

It goes further: individuals are often punished or overlooked for promotion because they are different from the norm or do not conform.

Wainer highlighted how important it is for business leaders and teachers at all levels to be constantly aware of staff members, pupils and students who don’t fit the norm or conform and, wherever possible, to give them the affirmation they need and deserve for being brave enough to be themselves and explore who they are.

This resonated with the principals and academics at the sessions. Wainer emphasised that he had a lot of respect for educators and society should be doing much more to recognise, elevate and reward educators.

Careful selection 

Another aspect of mentoring is well described in an article published in the Harvard Business Review by research scientist and medical professor Vineet Chopra and professor of internal medicine Sanjay Saint, both academics at the Ann Arbor VA Medical Centre at the University of Michigan.

In their March 29 2017 article, 6 Things Every Mentor Should Do, they explain that good mentoring is "discipline agnostic", and that "whether you’re a mentor to a medical resident or marketing manager, the same principles apply".

This includes selecting the mentee carefully, as mentors are giving valuable time to them, and clarifying how much time and input can be offered.

In return, mentees must demonstrate their commitment to the relationship by delivering an assignment the mentor gives to them on time. They should show complete accountability.

It is not just about being keen at the start of the mentorship; mentees should demonstrate follow-through, sustained energy and ongoing commitment even during tough times.

Chopra and Saint write: "It is not uncommon for mentors and mentees to have a falling out…. What seemed like a perfect pairing on the surface may wind up being a total mismatch…. In some cases, there’s nothing to be done. Usually, though, it’s possible to avoid or repair problems. Mentors must recognise that disagreements are misunderstandings and are almost inevitable in these relationships, and that the mentor, not the mentee, is responsible for avoiding or repairing rifts. Smart mentors … intervene early to keep the relationship on track."

This requires the mentor to be open and alert to signals the mentee is giving and be welcoming of the mentee’s honesty, and not covertly judgmental or punitive.

Mentors can often share the mentoring — the process does not have to be one-on-one and it makes sense to have this kind of structure in situations where mentors have limited time, Chopra and Saint write.

It also serves the mentees, as they are getting multiple inputs and are not left stranded if the relationship with one of their mentors falters.

So how is this embedded, whether at a school, work, entrepreneurial or interpersonal level? In a 2011 article in the Journal of Management, Missouri State University’s Dana Haggard and Missouri University’s Thomas Dougherty, Daniel Turban and James Wilbanks, reported on a comprehensive review of all mentoring research done over a number of years.

They suggest that there is no need for a single, precise definition of mentor and mentee — and perhaps this is not even advisable. There are core, non-negotiable attributes to the mentoring relationship, notably reciprocity, developmental benefits and regular or consistent interaction over some period. Ultimately, it is a learning partnership for mentor and mentee.

Several mentors and mentees on the Mentorship Challenge attest to this and explain how incredible and unexpected it has been for them, including starting to understand, for example, the need for men to learn to listen generously, be acutely aware of different gender and diversity experiences and to guide rather than make decisions for the mentee. 

 Skae is director of Rhodes Business School.

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