When the master becomes the student: lessons we have learnt from our mentees

Leaders at the Finance Indaba Conversations looked at the lessons mentees teach their mentors.

by Jane Steinacker

Mentorship is about exposing talent to knowledge, insight and providing support. “You can’t change what you don’t understand,” said Mpolaheng Mohlopi, CFO, Lanseria International Airport. And for Mpolaheng, that means that for someone to have choices, they need to be exposed to the options.

For instance, she said, at the airport, every new recruit is exposed to a variety of divisions within the airport as part of their orientation process. A receptionist took a keen interest in the IT department, where she is now working. Her goal has now changed – to become a CIO.

For Avashnee Ramdial, CFO at Stanlib, mentors have played an active role in shaping her career. She said that throughout her career mentors have taught her how to build her own brand, build networks and to become a more prominent supporter of developing women in the workplace. Mentors, she said, help provide opportunities for you.

She was able to pay that forward a few years agoF, when her executive assistant resigned at a crucial time She had heard of a receptionist who wanted to become an executive assistant and chose to offer her the position. Three years later, Avashnee cannot stop praising the work of this remarkable woman, who has become an invaluable member of her team.

It’s examples like these that create a culture of individual growth. Bryan Groome, CFO of Verimark said that his company’s policy is to promote from within.

The relationship between a mentor and a mentee is about getting to a destination together: “I see it as a journey,” said Catalin Lupu, the global VP for procurement and real estate at UiPath – Robotic Process Automation. Catalin said the success of a company is based on its culture: “It’s about how you make people comfortable, and allowing people to feel that they have made a contribution.”

All healthy relationships are a mutual exchange of thoughts, ideas and insights, and the mentors on this panel have seen how they are also learning. For example, Bryan decided to get some feedback from the members of his team and his mentees to understand how he is faring as a leader. Some of the insights he received created discomfort, but is grateful for the feedback.

His mentees allowed him to get a view of his blind spots. He said the biggest was understanding that, “just because it ticks for you doesn’t mean it ticks for them”. He was referring to how he is driven by performance. What he learnt is that others are driven by praise or financial reward and it is about managing your style and environment. “You will find lots of challenges if you don’t adapt to other people,” he said.

Mpolaheng’s mentee, she said, is teaching her how technology has shifted the world. She has realised that this is pushing her out of her own comfort zone, but is also helping her embrace technology. “It has been an eye opener,” she said.

They all advise mentees to seek out a variety of mentors during the different phases of their career. Mpolaheng advises people to seek out advice from members outside their own departments based on their skills, be it performance, juggling family responsibilities or managing conflict. “You can’t expect everything from one person,” she said.

With so many positive outcomes, mentors who have so much to offer sometimes have their goodwill rejected. Mpolaheng said that not everyone is ready to receive what a mentor has to offer. And that there are a variety of reasons for this. The parting advice she gives is, “You need to understand why you want to mentor and always be true to yourself.”