Mentorship – the good, the bad and the ugly

We all have mentors and are mentors to others, but formal mentorship is a different matter altogether. If not managed professionally, it is sure to fail.

Mentorship –  the good, the bad and the ugly
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Mentorship is one of the buzzwords currently in favour: we hear a lot about mentoring taking place between commercial and smaller farmers.

READMentoring – be prepared

I have learnt the hard way that ‘business coaching’ is less about the wisdom you have to impart than the relationship you establish with those you mentor. And I have often wondered how successful farmers’ mentorship programmes really are.

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The truth about mentorship

Little comprehensive information is available on the subject, but what I have found and what anecdotal evidence I have gathered myself seems to indicate the failure of administered mentoring programmes may be even higher than we think.

There may be many reasons for this, but to my mind there are two fundamental problems.

Firstly, as with all coaches, the relationship between the mentor and trainee is crucial. Think about the mentors in your life.

Your mother and father, a teacher or sports coach, a close friend, a colleague or boss in your working life – these are the types of people who become your mentors. People you have often known for years, in whom you have great trust and respect.

You don’t get them off the shelf, which is exactly what we seem to be doing in trying to kickstart mentorships among our young trainee farmers.

In order to be successful, professional mentorship requires great care in pairing mentor and trainee to match expectations and improve the odds of a speedy and productive relationship developing.

Essential elements
Secondly, if you search for definitions of mentor, you’ll find words such as ‘counsellor’, ‘guide’, ‘advisor’, ‘teacher’ and ‘supporter’. You won’t find words that describe the essential emotional elements that enable someone to become someone else’s mentor rather than a coach or advisor.

I’m thinking of words such as ‘trust’, ‘confidence’, ‘faith’, ‘hope’ and ‘belief’.

A true and effective mentorship relationship brings most or all of these elements into play, and it’s these elements that are so difficult to instil in a new formal mentorship.

Training is essential
As most mentors have had no training for the job, they have not been shown how to teach. Selected mentors are normally experienced and successful farmers.

While they might well be informal mentors to many protégés, the role of a professional mentor is something completely different. In professional mentorship, you cannot simply wing it, taking things as they come and dealing with each on an ad hoc basis.

Given time, a coach, consultant or advisor will often develop into a true mentor, but both mentor and trainee need training and an acceptance of their roles, otherwise the process is doomed to fail.