Get a Mentor!



I have never really been mentored and I believe it was detrimental to my growth as an individual and a professional. When I got into the university for example, I did not know the difference between a first class, second upper or second class degree until my final year. Some would say it was getting in too early, which I disagree with because I got in at seventeen. My strong belief is that I was not mentored and counseled at the right age by the right person(s).

I also remember leaving university as a young 21 year old graduate and coming to Lagos to attend Speedwriting because I heard that after being trained there for 6 months you got a job as an executive assistant in a blue chip company. That was my goal at that time and I achieved it, despite how expensive the school was. Again with the benefit of hindsight that was not the best career move to make at that time. Why did I not think about getting an MBA or an impressive professional certification in another field immediately I left university? I now ask myself.

Luckily, I was able to overcome these handicaps because I worked in a learning organisation and they were able to recognise my potential and push me in the right direction. I was also able to work with two leaders who were pivotal to making me who I am today. One is Ifueko Omoigui, who drilled me and took me out of my comfort zone. At that time, my young mind did not appreciate the benefits of the rigours she was putting me through. It was rigorous and challenging but ended up being very rewarding. I always tell my protégées to apply rigour in everything that they do and to appreciate the bosses who give them the toughest time because these are the bosses who mould you and make you better.

The second boss was Kunle Elebute. He believed in me and gave me challenging work. Many times, I had no clue about what he wanted me to do, but because he believed I could do it, I always found a way. Again, it was always hardwork with long hours but because I did not want to disappoint the person who believed in me, I always strived to put in my best in order not to disappoint him.

These two leaders, who impacted my life so much, did so as part of the job, with the resultant benefit of producing a much improved person professionally. Though they did not play the role of mentors directly but they did a good job. However, I strongly believe that my career could have been a lot more structured and strategic had I had the right mentor. A mentor enables a mentee to form clear goals and helps him or her set out to achieve them. A mentor creates the opportunity for a mentee to leverage their most valuable experiences. In fact, the leaders who invested in me, though they were not mentors in the strictest sense they significantly impacted my career.

With time I have come to realise that it’s even more imperative that apart from having a mentor as a woman, I should also have had a sponsor. Some of you may be wondering what a sponsor does? “A sponsor is someone with power who knows you and your potential, who advocates for your success on the corporate ladder, and who helps remove obstacles to your progress. A sponsor champions your progress. A sponsor also has faith in your ultimate success to protect you so that you can take risks and make occasional mistakes and missteps without those setting your career back.”

So, how do you choose a mentor? Bill Driscoll, a district president for Accountemps said, “Successful mentoring relationships happen when the mentor and mentee are the right match. Reach out to someone you think you are comfortable with, who can be a neutral sounding board, and (who) will also provide great advice.”
Camille Preston, an expert in this field said, we should consider these four attributes when looking for a mentor:

Look for clues of success
Successful people are successful for a reason. People who have achieved greatness in an area of their lives are typically using great strategies. And these people tend to make excellent mentors; so when looking for a mentor, look for the clues of success. Think about what is important to you and the things you want to achieve personally and professionally. What do you want to achieve. Do you want to be a better career person or a better entrepreneur? Start to look for people around you who exemplify the skills you want to acquire.

Mentoring goes both ways
To be sustainable and healthy, mentoring must be a two-way street. Both parties need to give 110% to the relationship. This ensures that the mentor and mentee continually learn from each other. Give as much to your mentor (or mentee) as he or she gives to you. And if you are looking for a mentor, actively seek out ways to add value to their life as well. Understand what matters most to them and find ways to contribute. No matter how much you think a person already has, there will always be a way for you the mentee to also be useful in your mentor’s life. Find that thing and offer it.

There is no one-size-fits-all
No one can (or should) guide you in all facets of your life. Actively seek out different mentors in different areas of your life such as career, entrepreneurship, finance, public speaking, etc. Identify growth opportunities in your life and think outside the box.

Change your definition
A mentor is someone whose life or work you value and admire, and whom you think might be a good guide. These days, a mentor can be any age, in any field, so stop thinking of a mentor in traditional terms. Too often we limit our mentors to those “above us.” Don’t let a person’s age, title, or experience pigeonhole your thinking a lot of young people are doing great stuff and they can also become our mentors.
I cannot overemphasise the need to have a mentor or a sponsor and if you can afford it get a coach. Your career will thank you.