“What an elder sees sitting down, a young man cannot see even if he climbs a tree” – so goes an African proverb traceable to the Igbo ethnic group of Nigeria.
There are several ways to view the proverb above but I like to view it as one statement that underscores the importance of mentorship. There are certain benefits vibrancy and passion cannot give you, but you can get it if you leverage the experience of those who have ‘been there, done that, and seen it all.’
Researchers would say that he who stands on the shoulder of giants will see far. That is what a mentor is to any business or career person – a shoulder to see far.
Unfortunately, what I see particularly in Africa’s corporate space is that a lot of young entrants come into their career or business with the sole aim of edging out the old hands – whom they think have become outdated – and take their place. In the course of this, they end up making rivals the same people who should have become their mentors and guides.
It does not matter if the person has more failures than successes. From some mentors, you will learn what to do and from others, you will learn what not to do. You will have a bit of both groups of mentors.
My advice – if you are thinking of breaking into any industry, you should be on the lookout for those who can become your mentors. They have to be more experienced of course so that you can learn from their successes, challenges, and even failures. Most successful startups you see had some experienced men behind the scene, providing encouragement and mentorship to the founders.
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was mentored by Steve Jobs. Jobs, himself, was earlier mentored by an early investor and executive at Apple Mike Markkula. Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin were mentored by Eric Schmidt.
One thing you get to benefit from this mentorship is access to a wider network and bigger opportunities. Whether you accept it or not, there are opportunities that only the ‘big boys’ in any industry get to know about, and unless you are connected to any of them (through mentorship), you may never get the much-desired break. You can see testimonials online from Nigerian comedians about how Alibaba’s mentorship helped them gain their footing. That is an example.
Your mentor necessarily has more experience than you do, and this means that as you grow in your industry, you can also assume mentor figure to ‘young’ people in your field, and this does not at all refer to birth-age. For entrepreneurs, I like to state clearly that having a mentor is not the same thing as hiring a consultant for your business.
Another thing I think people worry about in Africa is whether the experienced hands would agree to mentor them. They think that these (wo)men might view them as threats instead of collaborators. What I say to this is, give it a try. You just might be surprised. Most successful career persons and business gurus consider mentorship a way of giving back to the industry or community and are even more open if they see that their advice and guidance will have a measurable impact on helping their mentees.
What does this mean? It means you have to position yourself strategically if you want to be taken seriously.
I should wrap this up by telling you to choose wisely. Whether in a career or business, you need a mentor who is real, empathetic, creative, and honest. You need someone who has a personal concern about your professional growth or the growth of your business. Someone who can give you constructive criticism, a pat on the back as well as a reality check when you need one.
The article was written by Samuel Akinniyi Ajiboyede, the Founder and CEO of Zido Freight. You can find the original publication on his LinkedIn page.
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