Relationships & reciprocity – the key to mentorship

25 Jun 2019

Relationships & reciprocity – the key to mentorship

“The experience reinforced for me why our brightest young people are the leaders of today and not tomorrow and why we need to listen to them more!” Sneha Shah, CEO for Africa at Thomson Reuters

Mentorship creates lasting benefits. A myriad of studies has shown that mentoring catalyses career successes for individuals, plus higher employee engagement and retention in an organisation. In South Africa and globally, Odgers Berndtson’s CEOx1Day programme has shown not only advantages for mentees, but insightful learnings for mentors as well.

CEO for a Day (CEOx1Day) is Odgers Berndtson’s prestigious leadership development programme which pairs MBA students with CEOs to enable emerging leaders to walk a mile in an established leader’s shoes. To date, 18 000 students have applied, along with 350 CEOs participating across 12 countries.

What sets the programme apart is its emphasis on reciprocity and relationships – two of the big Rs for work and life in general.

Chania Stempowski, Joint Managing Director for Odgers sub-Saharan Africa, says, “Reciprocity is a concept that’s often as undervalued as empathy. Both are equally important tools in building real, authentic and lasting human connection. Connection is the key to creating sustained relationships. And relationships are really what it’s all about.”

Discovering the millennial mindset

For mentors like Anet Ahern, CEO of PSG Asset Management, and Sneha Shah, CEO for Africa at Thomson Reuters – both of whom have taken part in previous CEOx1Day programmes – mentoring is an unrivalled, reciprocal learning opportunity. Ahern says it’s an energising experience that provides a new perspective, “It’s good to reconnect with the enthusiasm with which I viewed my current job many years ago, instead of just tackling the to-do list!” She says teaching someone else forced her to crystallise her daily purpose through deeper analyses of every interaction.

Shah says the same. She adds that mentoring a young person gave her insights into the mindset of millennials – which is essential, given that 68% of Thomson’s team comprises Gen Y. “The experience reinforced for me why our brightest young people are the leaders of today and not tomorrow and why we need to listen to them more!”

Open, honest and constructive

For experienced leaders, coaching and mentoring others is a way to pass on wisdom and learnings to create something of a legacy. It means connecting with young people to listen to them, understand their challenges and give them the tools – and safe space – to talk these through. Stempowski says, “An excellent mentor never gives the answers. He or she instils the confidence in mentees to find the solutions themselves.”

The job comes with a hefty dose of humility. “Honesty is critical. It’s vital to put aside pride to get down to the nitty-gritty and impart anecdotes that are real, raw, and sometimes, rather emotional to reflect on. As a mentor, you need to be willing to share and you need to be ready to be challenged.”

It cannot be over-emphasised. Relationships are about reciprocity. That means creating a space where both mentors and mentees can be open, share ideas, and challenge one another constructively.  Therein, CEOs tend to find the most value. “Sometimes, a young leader will ask you why you do things in a certain way and it jolts you. It makes you ask ‘why?’. There’s nothing more powerful to usher in disruption than the simple question of ‘why?’.”

Stempowski says that the CEOs who participate in CEOx1Day are outstanding leaders who all display similar qualities, “They make themselves available – they’re extremely generous with their knowledge and time. They’re willing to be honest. They have high EQ and a deep interest in others. They’re committed to developing young people. They have a willingness to serve. And they know how to listen.”

That’s exactly the kind of leadership we want our young people to learn from. South Africa has had a succession of scandals with business ethics continuously called into question. To combat this, we need strong leaders to step up and let their actions speak up.

Young leaders need strong role models to look up to. That’s where mentorship is imperative.

Stempowski concludes, “The reciprocal benefits brought about by mentorship are phenomenal. We’ve heard countless testimonials from leading CEOs on how being part of CEOx1Day has given them renewed purpose, vigour and rigour. Mentorship is one of the strongest tools we have to unite different generations in a workplace – which is critical, now and going forward, as millennials come into their own.”