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I was recently invited as a panelist, by a fellow blogger who has become a friend – Zimasa from The Corporate Canvas, at their first annual networking event. The first question Zimasa asked me during the panel discussion portion of the event was:

What comes across strongly about you, is the fact that you are a voice and vessel for those who are powerless and disempowered. How important is it for young professionals in corporate and business to pay it forward? Why do you think paying it forward has not been emphasized enough – is it an issue of young people having a scarcity mentality?

I had an urge to move into empowerment preaching mode but I really felt strongly that we need to have a relook at mentorship when we discuss paying it forward and how it is done.

Firstly, we need to recognise that the resources, wealths and the wins of this world are not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that are there for the few to collect and soon they will be depleted, but rather a flowing river that we can all scoop from. We need to equip ourselves with resources to be able to choose how much we want to scoop up from this river. Whether it be a bucketful or a cup full but it does not deplete. We need to know where the river is and get our portion. It will never run dry.

Secondly, we need to rethink mentorship, what it serves and how to go about attaining what you want, maintaining the relationship and what the gaining is for both parties. We need to start looking at how to ensure that when young black talent is in leadership positions and are guided and mentored, how is it ensured that they are well equipped for every level of the elevator climb. How is it ensured that they are not met with gatekeepers at every opening of the elevator door that is moving up to the next level. How are these gatekeepers and naysayers ‘swatted’ or kept at bay whilst also ensuring we unleash the best talent and the best minds in the game. We cannot depend on telling people how to be successful without ensuring and equipping them for their success anymore – more especially for the young black girl who fall prey to many hurdles in the system.

Few tips for mentorship:

  • When selecting a mentor or sponsor, be very specific what you want from them and what your roadmap for the next 5-7 years is. Equally so, teach young girls or boys that you mentor to do the same.
  • Be practical but never forget to aim high, remember you aren’t just engaging with the person in front of you, but with their network. 
  • Know what resources you have and don’t have – and lay these out to your mentor. Be open to advise on ways to work around some resource challenges that you might come up with together – these may open up your mind and astound you.
  • Always be willing to add value. Learn your prospective mentors business inside out and find ways to add value even if it does not physically pay off for you – trust me it will pay off in the future.
  • Knowing what you want and your values (what you stand for), will give you a sense of how to proceed.
  • If your values don’t align or you don’t see eye to eye on some fundamental issue, don’t force things. It is okay to walk away respectfully and go back to the drawing board.

I continue to say, I do feel at times we over-glorify mentorship. It is not always the answer and does not work for everyone. If it is indeed not for you, the internet as well as bookstores have wealths of knowledge. The best kept secrets are hidden in books. Pick them up and read!