advisors, teachers, role models and friends.

In today’s South Africa, where urgent consideration must be given to redressing the imbalances of the past, particularly in the manufacturing sector, the role of mentors is of critical value.
Yet most organizations have no idea of where to begin or of what mentorship entails. In this, the first of a two part series, Andy Greenwood, CEO of the College of Production Technology, takes a look at this vital quality practice.

n effective mentoring relationship is characterised by mutual respect, trust, understanding and empathy. Good mentors are able to share life experiences and wisdom as well as technical expertise. They make an effort to know, accept and respect the goals and interests of the learner and establish an environment in which the learner’s accomplishment is limited only by their individual talent.

True mentors help a learner to stretch to their full potential, which may not always be a comfortable experience. We spend time with our friends because they accept us for what we are. Friends make us feel comfortable and seldom try to tell us right from wrong. They don’t usually judge us on what we do or don’t do. Friends never push us to our personal limits. Taking advice from others therefore may be, to some, a humbling experience but when you cease to learn you stagnate! True mentors will never hurt or manipulate a learner. They get personal satisfaction from seeing a learner implement what they are teaching and from watching the learner succeed and grow.

Morris Zelditch of the American Council of Graduate Schools summarises the multiple roles of a mentor as follows:

“Mentors are advisors, people with career experience willing to share their knowledge; supporters, people who give emotional and moral encouragement; tutors, people who give specific feedback on one’s performance; masters, in the sense of employers to whom one is apprenticed; sponsors, sources of information and assistance in obtaining opportunities; models, of identity of the kind of person one should aspire to.”


The nature of a mentoring relationship varies with the level and activities of both mentor and learner. Understand that each relationship must be based on a common goal: to advance the experiential, academic and personal growth of the learner.

There is no single formula for good mentoring; mentoring styles and activities are as varied as human relationships because that is exactly what they are. Some learners will feel comfortable approaching their mentor or mentors; others will be shy, intimidated or reluctant to seek help. Remember to be approachable, available and patient.

Learners for their part need to understand the pressures and time constraints faced by their mentors. For many mentors in industry, mentoring is not their primary responsibility and may limit their time in respect of their own function. At the same time, effective mentoring need not always require large amounts of time. Assistance may be provided in just a few moments by making the right suggestion or asking the right question.

Ten Tips for Effective Mentoring

Cultural Issues
Mentors may find themselves advising learners from cultural backgrounds different to their own. There are likely to be different communication and learning styles. Although the mentor may not be too familiar with the learner’s particular culture, it is of great importance to show a willingness to understand each learner as a unique individual. Many South Africans grew up in a culture where questioning or disagreeing with a person in authority was discouraged. This may cause the learner to be reluctant to question the mentor’s advice and opinion, and could lead to a breakdown in communication – the mentor thinks that the lack of questions means the learner understands while the learner is too afraid to tell someone of a higher authority that they do not understand.

Life experience of mentoring across cultural differences

The benefits of being a good mentor
There is a natural human desire to do this
For some mentors, having a learner succeed and perhaps become a friend and colleague, is a source of great joy
The best mentors are able to recruit – and keep – learners of a high calibre
There is no better way to keep ahead professionally than to coach learners
In helping learners to source information, the mentor strengthens his/her own contacts and makes new ones
The results of good mentoring live on long after you

Advice for new mentors
For most people, good mentoring is a skill that is developed over time. Here are a few tips:

Give the learner time to get issues they find sensitive or embarrassing
Take cues from the learner as to how close they want the relationship to be
Encourage self – confidence and independent thinking
Discuss your successes and failures. Let the learner see your human side
Critical feedback is essential to spur improvement, but do it objectively and temper criticism with praise when deserved
Avoid dictating choices or controlling a learners behaviour unnecessarily. Don’t get learners doing your work
• A good mentor is a good role model, through both word and action. By who you are and what you do offers learners a window on their career choice.

Trust is the core of mentoring relationship
The mentoring relationship might focus on work, but it is fundamentally a personal relationship built on trust. There are many ways to build trust and strengthen the relationship.

• Be a “wise and trusted counsellor.” For many students emotional support is crucial; a mentor is one who cares and who is there when needed.
• Don’t try to over – direct a learner. Too much assistance can hinder a learner’s progress. Unless the learner learns to do his/her own fixing, nothing is gained.
• Look for the “real” problem. A learner with a real problem may try to hide it. Give important issues time to emerge.
• Encourage feedback. Remind learners you have to understand their needs in order to help them. Ask whether you are sufficiently – or too – involved.
• Be direct. At times a good mentor may have to take steps that cause pain. You may find that a learner cannot do the work despite the best efforts of both of you. Explain your concerns directly and recommend action.
• Talk at a good time. Plan your time together, otherwise you may find yourself not listening attentively.
• Watch for depression. Fatigue, pessimism and difficulty in concentrating may indicate a problem. Be prepared to help the learner get specialist treatment if its needed.
• Remember the goal. Your objective is not to produce “another you.” It is to help the learner achieve a satisfying career – and become an effective mentor to future learners.

About the Author
Andy Greenwood has had a distinguished career in production management and industrial engineering and is currently the Chief Executive of the College of Production Technology in Johannesburg. The College offers training and development in the fields of production, quality and supply chain management from NQF levels 2-5.

Contact Andy on 0860 278 278; 082 966 1853 or

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