Mentoring a Winner: What an Experience!

By charlesdey, 18 November, 2014

That phone call from Istanbul, “Fortunate has won!” will not be forgotten very soon. A journey which started late in December last year culminated in a young colleague, Fortunate Mboweni, winning the 2014 Young Freight Forwarder of the Year competition which is organised by the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA).

Fortunate is the first Africa born African to have won this competition since its inception in 1999.

What an amazing experience to have been her mentor through the process.

This will change Fortunate’s life forever. For those like me who are given the opportunity to partner with our future leaders there were valuable lessons- in some ways I learnt more than Fortunate. As these are lessons which may benefit others I would like to share them.

1. The end is the key.

Fortunate and I spent a great deal of wasted effort by misinterpreting the requirements of the competition. Thanks to another member of the team’s more careful scrutiny of the competition criteria we were able to focus our efforts on what was really needed. It is also vital to know what your respective roles are. It was a huge temptation for me to over participate and carry out work which Fortunate needed to do, in which case Fortunate would have learnt very little except to sit still, look and listen.

2. Be brutally frank.

The whole objective of mentoring is to have your protégé succeed beyond their wildest expectations, but not yours. In taking on a mentorship take great care to understand the clay with which you are going to work. If you are not 100% confident of your candidate’s capabilities, don’t start the project. On the other hand do realise that, when the goal ahead is very clear and very worthwhile, people do outperform themselves. It is up to the mentor to carefully assess the potential of the person to be taken on the journey.

Mentoring is leading for success, not setting up for failure.

3. One of youse ain’t gonna make it!

At different stages of our journey Fortunate or I became extremely disheartened: there was too much to do in the time available, material we needed was not forthcoming, material we did obtain could not be digestively packaged within the constraints of the completion criteria, our presentation concept was brilliant but it just wouldn’t work and so on. What kept us going was the ability of the one who was standing to pick up the one who had fallen. In a mentoring journey obstacles are inevitable: each will affect each partner differently and it is up to each to counter the effects of each setback on the other.

4. There are no rules.

Mentoring is very much like parenting: there may be guiding principles but generally the rules have to be made up as you go along. People change with time and mentorship is all about development. As development takes place so the protégé needs to be taking on more responsibilities whilst the hand of the mentor grows lighter and lighter.

As Fortunate’s mentor I knew I had done my job when she left for Istanbul fully equipped to win the competition.

5. It’s the team which succeeds

Vital to successful mentorship is the opening of doors by forming a support group around the protégé. The mentor doesn’t necessarily have all the answers but does need a very wide network of contacts who collectively do. As Fortunate so eloquently put it when she thanked everyone “A key part of the presentation I made in winning the competition was to point out that much of my success was attributable to the team which supported me, and that means YOU. My winning was truly a joint effort in which I acted as your spokesperson in articulating all the knowledge and experience you had poured into my poor little head during my journey through the competition!”

6. The rewards far outweigh the pain

In general I estimate that every hour of a presentation takes 10 hours of preparation. In Fortunate’s case the 15 minute presentation she made to win the competition took not less than 100 hours. This just gives some idea of the level of commitment needed to be a mentor for a project of this nature. One thing is for sure though: the rewards from this experience will stay with me forever- every second spent on this project was worth it.

It may be true that legislation and other Government interventions may assist in transforming our society into one in which the limitations on each individual’s success are only the self-imposed ones.

I would like to suggest that a more important element to a nation’s success is that those who have gained a measure of experience and expertise take proactive steps in using those assets to invest in society’s future – our young people.



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