The dynamics of mentoring

The name Mentor was first used in the poem titled “ODYSSEY” written by Homer in 800BC.  As narrated in the poem, Mentor was the person in whose care Odysseus left his young son Telemachus when he embarked on his voyage. Mentor was the guardian, advisor, and teacher to Telemachus. The term mentoring is therefore used in describing the training of a pupil (read ‘someone who desires to learn’) by a more experienced person in an area of expertise or endeavor.

Mentors are critical to personal and career development. For that reason, everyone needs a mentor. Sometimes, depending on the specific area where growth is required, one may have more than one mentor. What is a mentor expected to do for his protégés?

The first thing a mentor does is to provide LEVERAGE for the protégé (not mentee as generally but erroneously used). By the fact that he has traveled the path his protégé seeks to travel, he knows a lot of things by experience viz: pitfalls to avoid, quicker ways to get things done, other people that you can benefit from etc. So essentially, mentoring shortens the distance between your reality and your ideal.

Contrary to what several protégés expect, the job of a mentor is to build platforms for his protégés, not to become their crutches. A true mentor does not give you wings to fly. He only trains you to soar with the ones you already have but have not effectively used.

Mentors teach and demonstrate possibilities. They don’t project or amplify limitations. If they address your limitations at all, it is to teach you how to conquer, not reinforce them. Mentors don’t set a destination for you and then drag you into it. They don’t give you a vision. They simply take you by the hand and help you chart the pathway to fulfilling yours. You are a protégé, not a clone!

We need mentors because no matter how lofty or novel they seem, our dreams and aspirations already exist as a reality somewhere and someone is already living in that reality. As the Holy Bible has well said, there is nothing new under the sun. Our connection with him makes our access to that reality faster and easier. Mentors teach us that the future, no matter how difficult or improbable it appears, is attainable.

From mentors, we also learn that if we are willing to pay the price as they did, we can beat the odds. The road to the top is paved with the stones of SACRIFICE. To go up, there are things to give up. For every prize to win, there is a price to pay. You will still pay a price, even though it may not be as much as others without a guide would pay because your mentor is working with you and showing you the ropes. This is the point at which some people jump out of the process. Never submit to mentorship if you don’t have the discipline of character and tenacity of the pursuit of a definite purpose.

Every protégé must however understand that idols have clay feet. Every mentor is first and foremost a man. And to quote my own mentor, the best of men are still men at their very best! Mentors also have weaknesses. But what makes them role models is the fact that they succeeded in spite of them!

Mentoring has nothing to do with age or status. It is simply based on the fact that your mentor has or knows something you don’t. He is already living in the reality of what is still a dream to you!

Every relationship has parameters of conduct. The mentor/protégé relationship is not any different. A certain mindset is required to relate successfully with mentors. I have called them MENTITUDES.

To get the best out of a mentor, a protégé must be willing to pay the price for access. You must have the tenacity of the bull and sometimes, the patience of Job! Your mentor may not always pick your calls or reply all your messages. But do all you can to stay in his consciousness.

Good protégés give back to their mentors. Don’t be a parasite who only takes or receives favours with nothing to offer. Giving back does not have to be in cash if you don’t have that. Volunteer your service, your time, your presence. If you hear that he is having a paid event, pay to attend it. Pay the price to be part of his close group. Generic mentoring is no way near the depth and quantum of proximate mentoring of a small group. If he is hosting an event, volunteer to serve. And SERVE visibly, not because you want anything as remuneration but because you appreciate his input into your life. The Bible supports the position that if anyone labours over you spiritually, it is a good idea to minister to them materially. Never go begging a mentor to give you his books or materials for free. When I go to visit my mentors, I always as a rule take a gift, no matter how small, usually in kind!!! Something as insignificant as ₦200 oranges may actually make a difference at a particular time!

Never amplify your mentor’s weaknesses even if you know them! You can learn from them but never use them against him. You need his strengths, not his weaknesses. So, unless it is a major moral flaw, focus less on it. Even if your emperor is dancing naked, it should not be your lot to broadcast it to the whole town.

The mentor gives a hand-up not hand-outs! What you need most from a mentor are his mind, his influence, maybe his network but not his pocket. Unless there is an emergency where it becomes absolutely necessary, keep your focus on building the relationship without being a mendicant!

Make it a duty to respect and deliberately honour the access they give you. Even when you have unfettered access or they give you the privilege of sleeping on the same bed with them, NEVER TAKE THEM FOR GRANTED!!! Always remember the protocol gap!!! Never abuse a mentor’s time, space or priorities simply because he gives you access into his life. It costs him nothing to extricate himself from you and block that access if you prove to be unworthy of it. Remember, you are the one who needs him more than he needs you!

Finally, when you go to see a mentor, go prepared. Cut off frivolities and stick to why you are there. Keep the main thing the main thing. No matter how free you are with a mentor, book an appointment if you need to see him. When you do go, it is advisable you go with a notebook where the things you want to discuss are listed. Be prepared to take notes if need be. Don’t laugh or joke away the chance. Don’t get carried away even if you meet him in the lighter mood. You may not get that chance again in a long while.

May God give you wisdom.

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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