I’ve had a diverse career path in the lead up to my appointment as CEO of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship. In retrospect, I owe a lot to the exceptional mentors who played a key role in my professional growth. Now that I’m in a position to be a mentor, I more fully appreciate how incredibly fulfilling mentorship can be for both parties.
At the Branson Centre, mentorship is a key part of the experience. We support a wide variety of businesses (from a gaming business, to a magazine, bakery, and 5-aside football business) and they all need guidance, advice and insider knowledge into their chosen industry. We aim to match them with people who can challenge them to develop both personally and professionally.
The art of communication
As a role model, a mentor should not be a guru, an instructor, boss or guardian. Mentorship has to be about sharing experience and ideas – it’s about two way communication. Be clear from the outset about how the relationship will work. For example, how often will the mentor and mentee meet, and how much telephone or email contact between meetings is acceptable? Decide this from the outset so that no-one is disappointed with the relationship. The relationship is also not only rewarding for the entrepreneur being mentored, but the mentor as well. Feedback from our own mentors is that they’ve learnt a huge amount from their mentees and have had fun doing so.
My first mentor was Stan. At the time, I was a young and green with good technical skills and no business acumen. He taught me some valuable lessons that have helped me to develop my own ‘personal brand’ through his demonstration of the importance of image and professionalism. Stan was always impeccably dressed and punctual. He drove a spotless car and I imitated him with no shame. To this day, the style in which I present myself is very much a reflection of what he taught me.
In the next organisation I joined, I met Syd, one of our customers. Hee taught me more about our marketplace than any of my colleagues. With this knowledge, his support and encouragement, my professional progress excelled. Soon I started developing others around me. I began to understand that I too had a responsibility as a role model and a mentor.
Essential to gaining the most from both these mentors was my ability to trust in them and know that they would never compromise their integrity. They were both professionally consistent and led by example. Today, I am asked by a number of young people to mentor them and I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to be a positive force in their lives and share my knowledge, advice and skills.
Finding the right balance
I believe that with mentorship comes great responsibility and great rewards. Dedicating the time and energy to encouraging an ambitious young person can have a significant impact on both the person doing the mentoring and the person being mentored. I also believe that focusing on the few young people who proactively seek advice and mentoring allows me to have a greater impact. Don’t spread yourself too thin when it comes to mentoring.
During my career, I was lucky to be exposed to great mentors, but was also persistent in my efforts to be mentored. Being in the right work environment is important, but so is the desire to be mentored. For many young South African entrepreneurs, they can often feel isolated and unsupported as they develop their business.
Finding great mentors to help develop our next generation of business owners is one of the biggest challenges for today’s entrepreneurs; particularly as we all lead busier lives. It is why one of the key areas of focus for the Branson Centre is encouraging successful entrepreneurs and business leaders with a vision for a better world to come forward and get involved as mentors.
Can you be a mentor to an entrepreneur?
The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship is looking for 50 new mentors. If you think you have what it takes to help grow an entrepreneur and their business, get in touch through www.bransoncentre.org.