This week the Foundation is hosting regional dinners to thank our mentors who have given so generously of their time. These dinners reminded me again of a quote I had first heard a number of years ago:“You will never maximise your potential in any area without mentoring. It is impossible.”
My initial reaction was that this view was too extreme but the more we have worked with Allan Gray Scholars, Candidate Fellows and Fellows, the more I have come to believe this statement with complete conviction. While education and skills development are the base from which one must work, they will not fully convert potential without the one-on-one relationships that transfer experience and most importantly, instil belief that audacious dreams are genuinely achievable.
As I reflect back on some of the most important decisions and developments in my own career, the input of mentors was critical. I would probably still be working in the mainstream financial sector if it were not for the wise words and courageous convictions of key mentors a number of years ago who gave me the confidence to take the plunge into the world of social entrepreneurship.
Thankfully, Mr. Gray himself had long been aware of the importance of this truth and so the Allan Gray Scholarship and Fellowship are built around mentorship as an integral aspect of the curriculum. Firstly Foundation team members play a mentoring role in working directly with Allan Gray Scholars and Candidate Fellows. During the last two years of the Fellowship, senior Candidate Fellows have a structured mentorship engagement which involves a pool of some 150 industry leaders and entrepreneurs.
These mentor relationships have led to significant breakthroughs for the Candidate Fellows, one commenting that “mentoring has really shifted my perspective and helped me appreciate all people and that I can learn from anyone.” It has also allowed access to opportunities, such as one Allan Gray Fellow who ended up incubating their venture at the business premises of their mentor. Yet mentoring is not just to the benefit of the mentee. The Foundation’s Mentor Manager, Rebecca Pillay, is clear that mentors also benefit. “They get to leave a legacy behind, stay relevant and connected with a younger generation and even expand their own community.”
Yet this culture of mentorship does not end with the formal Foundation team or mentors. The dynamic then includes Candidate Fellows giving input into Scholars and graduated Allan Gray Fellows offering advice and learning to Candidate Fellows at university. All this generates a positive reinforcing cycle of mentoring across the full length of our talent pipeline and binds the entire community together.
More recently the long standing importance of mentorship is being increasingly recognised globally, where Buke Cuhadar from the Global Entrepreneurship Week Team makes the following observation:
“In searching for the recipe behind building successful entrepreneurial ecosystems, core ingredients such as funding, talent and technology are often cited as critical. As many Global Entrepreneurship Week hosts have discovered however, mentorship is a key element to healthy entrepreneurial ecosystems.”
While attending the Global Entrepreneurship Congress earlier this year, it was apparent that mentorship was being given increasing prominence, including stand-alone sessions dedicated to the discipline. At the Congress we met Ingrid Vandervelt, the current Dell Entrepreneur-in-Residence. She has one of the most compelling mentorship stories I have ever heard. Driven by her desire to build a significant billion dollar company she realised the only chance she had of achieving this was if she found the right mentor. Living in Texas, she was limited to two people who had direct experience of building such a business, namely Michael Dell, or Dell’s own mentor, George Kozmetsky. She chose the latter and as a result of her conviction and persistence he accepted, on condition that she pick him up at 5am for their meetings and that the first one she missed would be her last! Sure enough her intentional pursuit of mentorship was rewarded when she finally had the idea with the right potential and Kozmetsky was able to guide her into making it a reality.
While we might not all succeed in convincing the likes of George Kozmetsky to be our mentor, (although you would be surprised where persistence will get you!) there are other mentoring resources that are available to all of us. Leadership author, Michael Hyatt talks about the different levels of mentoring and the first two are accessible to anyone.
1. Podcasts and Blogs
The knowledge age gives us direct access to some of the greatest minds in the form of blogs or podcasts for free. For example, Stanford E-Corner Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast has been a great source of indirect mentoring to me through providing access to the insights of global entrepreneurs on a weekly basis.
Books are another means to gain insight into the thinking of powerful role-models and in recent times their falling prices have made these resources even more accessible. One of the Foundation’s mentors took it as far as questioning whether any Candidate Fellow was sincere in their pursuit of an entrepreneurial path if they had not read the recent Steve Jobs biography – such was the learning contained within that one book.
By expanding our frame of reference for mentoring beyond face to face interaction, we open ourselves up to a whole new world of mentoring. And this should be extended further to leverage the power of peer mentoring. It is often quoted that we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. Who are those people in our closest circles that we are allowing such influence? There is unique learning that comes from spending time and sharing common challenges with likeminded individuals. At times just the act of bringing Candidate Fellows together without any other input is sufficient to create an explosion of energy and ideas motivating them in ways which is difficult to achieve, even through carefully crafted curriculum.
In whatever form, mentoring has a profound contribution to make to the development of our full potential. In the words of Mr. Gray “The Foundation is about allowing people to dream. Not a dream that is impossible, but a dream that can be realised.” And one of the most important means to ensure that dreams are realised is to propel them with mentorship.
Share your mentoring stories with us in the comments section below. We’d love to hear how mentoring has impacted you.
Want to get involved in the Foundation’s mentoring programme? Find out more here
In South Africa a mentoring movement is being catalysed by Give8hours