In December 2017, at the Nigerian Bar Association Jos branch Plateau state Law Week which I participated in, a seasoned lawyer and the oldest female lawyer in the Jos jurisdiction Mrs H. O. Olowokere spoke to us about mentorship in the legal profession.
In an inspiring and story like fashion, Mrs H. O. Olowokere talked to us about mentorship and she said mentorship has always been a part of our culture. She made it clear to us that there are several African proverbs that portray the need for mentorship.
Among such African proverbs she said is:
“What an elder sees sitting down, even if a young man climbs a top of a tree he won’t be able to see it”
What that means is that it takes the experience of growing up to understand some things in life.
She also admonished us that a certificate is only a potential. A real professional doesn’t consider certificates alone. He needs to acquire practical experience and experience can be learnt from mentors.
Sometime in Aril 2018, I also participated in The Nigerian Bar Association Young Lawyers’ Forum Summit in Lagos, Nigeria, where the issue of mentorship was still hammered into our minds by the likes of Mr Rotimi Idowu, Mayo Onibanjo SAN, and other seasoned professional lawyers.
Mentorship is not a new concept at all but the concept of mentorship has become very relevant especially in professional fields.
What then is mentorship?
First of all, let’s consider who a mentor and a mentee is?
A mentor is considered as a wise and trusted counsellor or teacher. A mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser.
If you know the ancient story of Odysseus, the origin of the word Mentor
was from the name of Odysseus’s trusted counsellor in Homer’s Odyssey
who was assigned the role to oversee Odysseus’s son Telemachus while Odysseus was away fighting in Troy.
Mentor was an old man who took to guide Telemachus (He was later revealed to be Athena the goddess who took the form of an old man).
A mentee is simply someone who is being supported and given advice about their work by a more experienced person who is a mentor.
Mentorship is a relationship in which a more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person at a job, a work, or as a student.
In mentorship, age is not a barrier as a mentor could be a younger person but who is only more experienced.
Mentorship is a continuous learning process. It is a process where the mentor and the mentee have an amount of time together where the mentee has an opportunity to tap into the wealth of experience already gathered by the mentor.
What are the benefits of mentorship?
The benefits can be in the form of getting adequate moral, psychological, educational, technical/tactical, and in some instances spiritual guidance.
The mentee has the opportunity to model career attitude, leadership role, communication and professional styles of the mentor.
The educational system doesn’t teach you how to practice your profession. You learn it from your mentors.
As mentorship is a two-way communication relationship, there is a place for the mentee to ask questions so as to learn what the mentor is willing to share.
The mentee is privileged to get exposure to information, secrets, tools, and wisdom of the mentor. This way the mentee is prevented from making less professional mistakes with fewer consequences.
How does a mentorship relationship begin?
In most times, it is the mentee who seek out the mentor and not the other way round.
The mentee takes his time to find someone he believes is capable of giving him the needed guidance, and someone he feels he can follow in his footsteps.
Other forms of mentorship can begin by an organisation set up a mentorship unit for its new recruits or employees to provide them with structured training and guidance for their new roles and positions at work.
And it is important to allow the mentees the choice to choose their mentors in the organisation who they feel they need the most.
A mentorship program that chooses mentors for the mentee is in most cases not the right way to go about it.
For me, some of my mentoring I get from reading books of great authors. I’ve not met these mentors but I read their books, listen to their audio talks and watch their videos. In some instances, I email them to ask questions to receive guidance. Those kinds of mentors are what is known as virtual mentors.
In every professional field or organisational setting, there are always the “go to” people who you can call upon at certain times who have answers to aspects of your profession where guidance is needed.
These kinds of people are relevant in career development especially for junior professionals who are preparing for a higher responsibility with a job. Such mentorship relationship helps prepares the new employee to learn the way of doing things on the job.
Employers and experienced professionals should be open to being sought out by the mentees. Young talented individuals may be easily distracted by difficulties in the profession and they may find it difficult to retain the position.
A good mentoring program will help allow for retention of talents within the organisation especially if it gives the feeling of development and growth for the mentees.
Mentorship is a great avenue for knowledge transfer especially in fields where there is the need for certain skills and particular task to be done. Mentoring the new recruits is a great way to expose the mentees and give them access to a pool of knowledge.
In a professional environment, the mentor knows the work, the trends, the tricks, and techniques you should know to be in the game, so he is careful to pass it on to the mentee. Such a mentor is someone who you can discuss ideas with relating to your practice area.
If you are in a competitive field, mentorship may be necessary. You need a mentor to see you through the rough terrain and help you avoid bad breaks. You need a mentor to see that you utilize your ability where necessary and avoid wasting your time in unproductive ventures. You need a mentor that will help you get things done quickly.
The truth is some individuals have learning styles that require practical guidance from more experienced persons. If you are that kind of person, like me, who learns faster from other people showing you stuff, it is paramount you seek those people in your industry who you feel can pass their knowledge and experience to you.
Having the right mentor can help you reach points in your career you cannot do alone.
Mentors can also be trainers, coaches but not all trainers and coaches are mentors. At least I know of a fact that some people hate their trainers. If you doubt me, go to an army recruitment camp.
Do mentors benefit in any way?
The mentor-mentee relationship is not only beneficial to the mentee alone. The mentor can also benefit.
The mentor will have the experience of a fulfilment and satisfaction for helping the mentee fulfil his potential.
Mentorship helps to keep the mentor on his A game because he must not appear less than what his mentee sought him for.
A mentor must continue to learn and develop himself so as not to be surprised at what his mentees bring to him.
Some mentors also benefit from the young minds (the Millennials). Young people are more conversant with latest trends and technology going on in the society which the mentors can tap from.
Young minds help generate ideas that are creative and relevant to the present age.
When you have young minds around you will notice their fearlessness and daredevil attitudes which you can harness.
Mentorship brings back to your mind the days when you were young and inexperienced which will help you appreciate where you are now.
It is cheaper and less painful to learn from the experienced professionals in your field. Find a mentor who will help you be who you want to strive to be.
And to the mentors out there, be open minded and truthful to your mentees and leave a legacy for them they will remember you for forever.
There is a mindset that every business has, and that is why we need mentorship. It is through mentorship that you get the professional mindset in your profession.