“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” — John C. Maxwell
Estimated time to read: 9 minutes
Last year, I made it a point of duty to ensure I mentored younger women. I didn’t want to have minions or people who were at my beck and call, but women who had potential, aspirations, and vision and who just needed a nudge and sometimes a full-on push in the right direction. I got that with both Feyi and Kemi, both under the age of 25 at the time – one of whom I took under my wing because I saw the potential in her, and the other who forced herself (lol) under my wing and opened my eyes to her potential and how we all could work together.
When I worked in Corporate America, I learned the importance of mentorship early in my career – through counter-productivity to be honest. I was headed to speak with my soon to be team lead; I entered her office, she invited me to sit down, and said verbatim, “Let’s make this quick; I don’t have time to teach.”
To say every question I initially had for her jumped out of my head, scurried off my notebook paper, and sprinted through the door is an understatement. I was beyond shocked that someone in a leadership position – the highest on the team and one of the highest in the firm – could have the audacity to utter such a malignant statement, and more or less, tell me she could not lead me. Needless to say, the conversation was completely useless and unproductive. It was from that very moment I knew I could not trust her with my career, and she never proved me wrong.
I vowed to myself never to such a heartless leader, someone who is unwilling to look back and lift up those behind me. I’m perfectly fine with stern, straightforward; no nonsense leadership; the type who’s about her business, ready to get her hands dirty and get the job done. Heck, I literally described myself and my work style. But there’s a way to still be a teacher, a nurturer, a big sister or mother figure on the job. It’s simply called being a woman. So when my first woman manager told me she was not ready to help build me up to be the best consultant I could be, it was a slap in a face from another woman, who was in the same male-dominated industry I was working side-by-side with her in.
Whenever I was put in a position to lead other junior staff, be it one person, five or ten, I did my best to ensure everyone knew their opinion mattered, to speak up was a privilege and an expectation; that though I may have been the lead, we were all equal at the end of the day. The reality is everyone thinks and operates differently and it is a horrible expectation to think people would come in and agree with you 100% of the time or impose your own thought pattern on someone without first exploring a possible alternative.
When I started to mentor Feyi and Kemi, I brought that same mentality and approach when working with them in their respective businesses – sewing/tailoring and makeup artistry. They both had so much skill and even more potential, I figured it would be great to work with them for the re-launch of my blog.
Feyi and I would discuss how to sew certain fabrics to shape my body frame, what style and cut would make the fabrics pop, and where to adjust the clothes so that it sit or hug me better. I’d tell Kemi what styles and colors of clothes I had for upcoming shoots and we’d discuss what makeup look(s) that would work be best. For each of them, we’d discuss their goals for the next couple of months, how they plan to grow their businesses and how they’d stretch themselves in bettering their skillset. We’d have open-ended dialogues about what they didn’t do well and what they could do better on, as well as what they did well and should continue doing.
Throughout the year, I have seen them get so much better in their crafts, I literally could cry proud mama tears of joy. Their businesses are picking with more and more people patronizing them, they sometimes are too busy to work with me.
They’ve come to know me so well they are now able and comfortable to suggest what looks would look good on me, and I am satisfied with the outcome. In fact, it was Kemi’s idea for me to have a photoshoot for my 30th birthday, with literally only one week to go to the date. Sticking to my true fashion – African inspired styles – that meant Feyi only had 5 days to sew this dress and make sure it fit me perfectly for the shoot. And it did! I had ideas for how I wanted the dress and makeup to be, but the girls usurped it (just a bit) and did what they wanted (just a bit).
But it was all perfect and fun in the end.
In short, here are three reasons why you need a mentor:
- Mentors are there to push you beyond your self-imposed limits.
It is human nature to think you are not able to do something because you are not good enough or never tried to do something before, but that is truly a trick of the mind. It tells you that you are not good enough, no one will trust you, or no one will purchase from you. A good mentor is there to see the potential in you and awaken the possibilities of what could be if you do try.
- Mentors see the pitfalls ahead that you can’t.
When someone says, “Been there, done that, don’t try it,” there is value in that – someone else’s experience is the best teacher. A mentor who truly wants you to succeed will understand goals and where it is you are trying to go and will help you course correct, as best as they can to ensure that you don’t fail along the way.
- Mentors will let you speak your mind and offer suggestions, first.
The whole point of mentorship is having someone guide and constructively criticize your work and effort so that you can present the best version of yourself. They are not there to beat you down or make you feel less than. If you have a mentor and you feel unworthy after you have a meeting or session with them, chances are you need a new [and better] mentor. You should feel inspired, empowered, and ready to hit the ground running immediately after you speak with your mentor.
It is a wonderful feeling, but moreover, an awesome opportunity to have someone investing time and effort into you. That means and shows they care about your success as much as they do their own because when one wins, you all win.
Do you have a mentor and how’s your relationship with him or her, if you do? Let me know in the comments.