Why is Mentoring such a Big Deal?

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In the opinion of Myles Monroe, one of my mentors, “The greatest act of leadership is mentoring. No matter how much you may learn, achieve, accumulate, or accomplish, if it all dies with you, then you are a generational failure.”

While mentoring and being mentored can be a lifestyle choice, a mentor can be unaware that they are mentoring you and the same can be true for the person being mentored, it can be a conscious or subconscious occurrence. This is why, being in the company of those you admire and want to emulate is wise.

In order to allow other people’s values, principles, experience and expertise to contribute to who I am and who I have become I purposed to observe people. While I critically assess what I hear, observe and discern I am careful not to jump to CONCLUSIONS about people, issues and situations, or form hard and fast OPINIONS. I choose to give people the benefit of the doubt which tends to frustrate those around me.

A conversation I heard once holds meaning for me in this regard.

“I don’t like that person,” someone said.
“How well do you know him?” a friend queried.
“I don’t know him at all,” he replied.
“Ah…that‘s probably why,” said the friend, nodding his head.

Just as it benefits us and those looking up to us, to carefully and respectfully weigh the words and deeds of others, it is of great benefit to practice weighing the merits of our own words and deeds.

A great rule of thumb, in my book, when it comes to opinions is to keep them to ourselves, unless asked! Even then it is wise to ask the person if they are sure they want our honest opinion. When our views clash with other views it is important to listen carefully and try to really hear and respect where the other person is coming from but often I have found it necessary to say ‘while I can’t agree with your point of view I am happy to agree to disagree’. One thing we cannot do, of course, is agree when we don’t actually agree. Over the years however, I found my ‘truth at all costs approach’ wasn’t always as pleasing to God as I thought. In fact I found him reminding me on many occasions that being ‘kind’ carried a lot of weight and I had to figure out how to walk this ‘tightrope’!

I love the approach Ravi Zacharias always recommended. He kept in mind that he was not just answering a question but he was answering a person and the person was always more important than the question.

Mentoring can be described as “a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction” as John Crosby, an American newspaper columnist, radio-television critic, novelist and TV host once said, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some mentors have been known to say ‘let’s go do this’ others may say ‘now you go and do it’. Others may say nothing and let their efforts, successes and failures speak for them selves or they may document them for those who may benefit from their experiences and views. We can also be mentored, in a way, by our own mistakes and experiences BUT only if we purpose to learn from them. This is sadly easier said than done because to learn from our mistakes we have to own up and take responsibility for them. We have to face the consequences and make an effort to make amends (restitution). Too many people practice the opposite – defending, rationalizing, passing the buck, finger pointing and blaming.

As children our imperfect parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, superheroes and TV characters are some of our many mentors – for better or for worse. And mostly we have little say over who has this sort of access and influence on our lives. Later as young adults we can choose to develop greater discernment and even choose to some extent who gets close to us. Thinking about the things we hear and see and developing that discernment is key to making good choices and to becoming an example others can look to for guidance. An incident some years ago that highlights this happened during a TV talk show that I was a guest on. In response to a mischievous question, I said “I cannot tell you why a rapist rapes, you would have to ask a rapist that question, but I can tell you what some rapists are reported to have said and what police report.” At that moment a self-confessed former rapist in the audience, a young man, spoke out in a way that underscored the need for men in communities to re-think what kind of role models they are. This young man identified himself and bravely explained that, for him, rape was about proving one’s manhood by being able to take control over a woman. He said it was the male role models in families and communities who pass on the practice as they are looked up to when they have control over women by raping them.

Now what I want to say may be disappointing to hear, but for me it is crucial that we all get this, because as hard as we may or may not try, we are NOT going to do or say the right thing all of the time. Our purpose is not to be ‘perfect’ in any way form or fashion – that is what God is – we are humans with the capacity to choose, we have emotions and we don’t know everything. Choice means the capacity at any moment to choose – and in this imperfect world alongside so many other IMPERFECT BEINGS we can only hope to get it right some of the time. This is why our maker emphasizes, above all else, the need to be forgiven and to forgive.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with mentorship? Just this. That mentor of yours is going to need your forgiveness sooner or later, for their imperfections – and the person you are mentoring is going to to need your forgiveness, again, and again and again! Forgiving and choosing to believe for the best in a person does not mean condoning or encouraging wrong doing. LOVING AND TRUSTING ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS – trust is earned and can be lost, while love is unconditional, it can’t be earned and can’t be lost. Both Mentors and those being mentored must commit to unconditional love but must also know that when trust is broken it takes a lot of very hard work to rebuild.

Absolute trust in yourself or another person in my experience, is not wise – we will disappoint each other. Absolute trust in Gods ability to work in and through us and others, however… that is wise!

Unconditional love requires us to know our right ‘NOT to be used or abused’, know the worst and yet believe for the best, and NOT to give up on each other. Requirements like this highlight the degree of difficulty we face as people and the advantage we have if we have the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us.

While mentors can be of great benefit to us, the onus is not on them but on ourselves to become the best that only we can be. There is only one YOU and being YOU is key to your success. Some people are in our lives forever, others are there for a season. Letting go is as important as stepping up. It is not wise for a mentee or mentor to expect the relationship to stay the same for ever. As with the parent child relationship, the respect should always be there but you need to discern at what point the mentee needs to know you are walking shoulder to shoulder in life and they are not in your shadow.

CHOOSING GOD AS A MENTOR…

Early in my relationship with God I practised being in conversation with Him at all times. This didn’t mean I would be talking non-stop out loud, or even talking to Him in my head. I am not a big talker and love silences, even in conversations with others. Rather, I am aware of His presence, contemplating the things He has said and am listening. I also discuss things with Him and remind Him I am likely to get it wrong or wrong enough to do damage if He doesn’t point me in the right direction.

The thing that most got to me about God was that He first loved me, as unloveable as I was and can be. It turned out that unconditional love was what I craved. As a ‘good’ girl, I made it easy for people not to, dislike me but I never felt loved and doubted that anyone would love the real me!!

I recall one time in particular when I felt God was saying to me:

“You feel unworthy and can’t believe that I could still love you. Does that mean there have been times when you thought you deserved my love? My love for you is unfailing. Yes, I know all about you and I still love you. But then, I have always known all about you and still loved you. I want to fill your heart with overflowing joy—not because of your goodness, or righteousness or sacrifice, but because of your belief in My Son… learn to rejoice in all things and trust me…I know you and love you and desire only that you love Me in return…”

It occurred to me on one of many crazy days, that life can in some ways be compared to a game of SNAKES & LADDERS. The dice throwing simbolises the many risks we take in sharing our lives with, and loving people. We attempt to move toward the finish line of life, hoping we will get opportunities to climb ladders but knowing snakes are also en route and our journey could meet with set-backs. When we have a set back, overturning the game board or giving up and refusing to play, will not get us to the finish line. If we keep throwing the dice however, even if we are protesting, we will keep moving forward no matter how slowly. Everyone of us in the game of life face potential risks and opportunities. Christians however have an advantage in that we can have His peace and don’t need to fear or fret, because we know WE DONT HAVE TO GET THERE FIRST and it doesn’t matter how many people get there before us, finishing is all that counts.

What has this got to do with mentoring you say? In my view… everything. Mentoring, like almost everything else in life will require you to stay in the game for an appointed time, despite the ups and downs and not to let those who get ahead of you distract you from your goal of getting to the finish line. We only fail when we give up on ourselves or each other. Maybe I should mention here that ‘taking a break is not giving up – we all get weary at times!

Talking about ladders, brings to mind other great advice that has helped me on route to today – “no matter how many steps you take up the ladder with one foot you will go no higher until you lift your other foot off the Lower rung”. “If however, the ladder is NOT leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

Like countless other men and women, I learned that courage is not the absence of fear but doing the right thing in spite of it,that brave men and women are not those who don’t feel afraid but those who conquer that fear.

You may be thinking now of treacherous terrain or weather, fighting wild fires or wild beasts but let’s face it, people are even more unpredictable and scary. You are scary, I am scary, our moods and propensity to sabotage ourselves and others has been documented from the beginning of time – not giving up on each other takes great courage and daring. I am reminded of the words I always feel God uses to remind me of this. “YOUR JOB IS TO… NOT PANIC!” I would hear Him say on oh, so many occasions and in oh, so many situations! I am known to pass on this advice just as often and in 2019 when consoling South African voters who were panicking around election time, that the challenges they feared will not be worse than much of our local and global history, or worse than the frightening challenges being faced by every other country in the world. If you are ever tempted to be ‘faint hearted’ read a history book and you are likely to be happy to face the challenges (every generation faces), in the 21st century and not in any other time in history.

Maya Angelou a mentor to many, once said “perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” In my case, travel definitely made me think and see many things differently. Returning to my home town as a young adult, having been exposed to life outside of what was Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, caused me to question what I saw, and while I was not overly outspoken, I still managed to annoy people with opinions on things that I thought mattered. I no longer found it easy to let people say things as if I agreed, when I definitely did not. I was now acutely aware of the attitudes of ‘white’ people in Bulawayo, ATTITUDES OF ENTITLEMENT AND SUPERIORITY which seemed so normal to them. Of course, by looking down on others for their attitudes meant I had now developed an attitude of superiority myself!

It’s a bit like when you find yourself guilty of judging someone for being judgemental, or when you manage to stay humble in a situation, but take pride in your humility! I love how there is just no way to be righteous without somehow becoming self-righteous. This is why our only hope is Jesus!

The Christian teaching on submission did not faze me as I had been a submissive child. It was my default mode. I did however, grow to understand Christian submission between a husband and wife for example, to be a mutual thing, where both parties are willing to make compromises in the best interests of each other, in the best interests of their children and in the best interests of society.

Power relations and gender norms play a major role with regard to EMPOWERMENT, AND MENTORING has everything to do with empowering people. I am not a fan of there being hard and fast roles for men and roles for women whether it is in a marriage, family or other partnerships. Each of us has our strengths and weaknesses. Recognising what each of us brings to a partnership can create space for us to slot into the roles most suited to us, and those most beneficial in the situation or collective.

For example, it took my husband quite a few years to accept that, with the best will in the world, I just did not relate well to food, and my best efforts in a kitchen were never going to come close to his natural ability. I learned to stay out of the kitchen and my children learned what they know about great food from their father. Demi has a little more difficulty with the concept of staying out of things, but I have learned to work around him and he has learned to accept (often grudgingly) that some things are best left to me. It is also true that some things require team work.

The Labour Laws Amendment Act initiated by myself in my later years in Parliament reflected this philosophy. It is meant to be a step toward empowering both men and women to build a culture of responsibility- sharing, especially domestic ones such as child care.

In my experience we can provide opportunities for people and encourage them, but for any of us to be empowered we must take advantage of those opportunities – use our God-given gifts and work with or without pay and with or without position and titles. In other words, we must empower ourselves. I remember the day (probably some time in 1998) when my sister who is younger than me said “Che it is not normal for people to work for nothing and for 6 years – especially you, you had so much potential”. Well, I was flabbergasted because I thought I had the most important job in the world pioneering a role for Christians in Politics in the new SA!

Most of my life I was an entrepreneur and an employer but did have a fair amount of experience as an employee. My working days started while I was still at school. Modeling assignments took up most of my time and I had a Saturday morning and holiday job in a chemist, packing and cleaning shelves. My first job after college was as a receptionist in a carpet laying company and while overseas I did everything from working in pubs, offices and shops to working on an assembly line in a factory manufacturing aircraft parts. I had few actual skills but what I did have was a strong work ethic drilled in to me by my step dad. What I learned was if I did not yet have the skills for a job, pitching up on time and being willing to learn, more often than not, made way for me to acquire skills.

When I opened my first modeling studio in Bulawayo, I did so based on the understanding that since I had loved and benefitted from modeling classes others like me probably would too. i also opened a fashion boutique. I simply did what I did naturally and wanted to share what knowledge and skill I had acquired. In later years as a Christian I would understand this to link to what God said to Moses ‘what do you have in your hand’? He doesn’t ask us to use what we don’t have – we start with making what we do have available to others and our experience, expertise and opportunities grow.

When I had first arrived in Johannesburg I got a position as a personnel consultant once I had survived the training which included how to consciously break down a lofty goal into what had to be achieved monthly, then weekly and daily. This was invaluable then and throughout the years. Focusing on the expected outcome can be a fear-inducing and paralysing thing. The secret of success was to identify what needed to be done each day and achieve it. Following this simple ritual always got me the results I needed, and I never had to stress about meeting targets.

I am what I call a big-picture person, but the minute I have a sense of what that picture is, I can reduce it down to what has to be done now (the little picture) to get it accomplished. It is the ‘how do you eat an elephant’ analogy – one bite at a time!

I have watched many highly talented people get intimidated by the big picture and give up before they have a chance to succeed or even start. I saw people paralyzed or destroyed by titles and position and other people crippled when they no longer had positions or titles.

I LEARNED:

to be me and do what I do best with or without position or title. I must admit I did wonder how being a ‘former’ MP might affect me but found it has felt like a promotion and I can honestly say I just carried on being me and doing what I do.
to pitch up offering no more or less than what and who I am, no pretense just available and teachable. (This approach lifts a heavy burden of responsibility and doubts).
when we live our Christian values and principles we are seen as responsible and confident. (I do not believe we are meant to carry a burden of responsibility or act confident – these are just what we become by being ourselves and living what we believe.

I had noticed over the years, both in training and on the job how people’s steal and resolve were constantly tested and how many people reacted impulsively and tended to ‘fire’ themselves. Throughout my working years I was careful not to allow my ego to ‘cut of my nose to spite my face’. I took what people dished out, kept my complaints to myself, didn’t quit and came out the better for it.

I love this story and hope you will too! It’s about a bird who decided not to fly south for the winter. Soon the weather turned so cold that he reluctantly started southward. In a short time, ice began to form on his wings and he fell to earth in a barnyard, almost frozen. A cow passed by and crapped on the little sparrow. The sparrow thought it was the end. But then the manure warmed him and defrosted his wings. Warm and happy, able to breathe, he started to sing. Just then a large cat came by and hearing the chirping, investigated the sounds. The cat cleared away the manure, found the chirping sparrow and promptly ate him.

The lessons here are priceless! Firstly everyone who shits on you is not necessarily your enemy. Secondly everyone who gets you out of shit is not necessarily your friend and thirdly if you are warm and happy in a pile of shit keep your mouth shut. “The Advantage in Your Disadvantage,” from The Healing Power of Humor, by Allen Klein

Sales training and the many self help and inspirational Christian speakers that I was addicted to at one time in my life, had helped me recognize the rejection we all experience on life’s journey and to determine not to take REJECTION or the rude and often mean behaviour of people, personally. Practicing this policy, often easier said than done, definitely helped me stay the course on many tasks. I would say especially as a politician but digging deeper I realize there is no place in life where we are more… or less vulnerable to rejection, whether it be family, church, sports, work or even socializing.

Again as Christians we have an advantage, knowing the one who took rejection on Himself so that we would know that we BELONG regardless of how we are treated – being able to identify with other people’s pain but not be disabled by our own pain.

Later I was running aerobic classes from the church we attended in Durban while working in personnel and sales but was wrestling with an idea that had taken up residence in my head that I was meant to expand and begin giving modeling classes again. I was arguing with God saying isn’t this like a ‘dog returning to its vomit’? loosely quoting an aphorism which appears in the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 26:11).

It was during this period that I had a vision – I was awake, I think! I saw a tiny, ant-sized me standing next to some huge dusty feet in leather sandals, I was clutching white fabric which I understood to be the hem of Jesus garment. A huge hand was flicking the garment as if to get me to let go. I remember feeling confused and a little hurt as I pointed to a ditch running across our path and said “Lord why are you flicking me off, if I am close to the ditch my foot may slip and I could fall in.” A voice replied, “your foot may slip, but I am holding you – how will you reach out to those in the ditch if you do not trust me to keep you when you are close to the edge? Let go and trust me.”

I opened the modeling school and people of all ages came in their numbers and soon I expanded and opened the New Life Aerobics and Modelling studio and agency, with a beauty and slimming salon attached. I sold cosmetics, Beauty Without Cruelty skin care products, workout gear and wrist and ankle weights (which I designed and had manufactured). The work was 24/7. I did several aerobic classes from early in the day to early evening followed by modelling classes and I would then hold rehearsals for shows late into the night.

The classes covered topics like self awareness and self esteem as well as grooming and modeling and were sprinkled with the many insights I had felt God had shared with me. There came a time however, just before I got involved in politics, that I believed God was challenging me to close the studio and put away all I had written as course notes, saying “I will put a new word in your mouth but the ‘old’ must move aside for the ‘new’ thing I will do.” This felt like a very difficult thing to do at the time, like a mother abandoning a child or an artist destroying a favorite piece of art – until I did it that is! LETTING GO released within me a new joy, energy and anticipation – I felt like I had the “Heart of a Champion” as the songwriter Carmen would have said:

“When you’re out there on the edge and the odds you face are life and death you’ve got to have the heart of a champion…”.

I have wondered recently how different things might have been, had I not had my colleague, Kent Durr, as a role model, mentor and resource in my EARLY DAYS IN PARLIAMENT. I studied most people closely but Kent even more so. He was a model for keeping his dignity when opposed or unfairly accused, and was always mindful to show respect for the person or office of the person, even while articulately dismantling their arguments. Kent, with his years of experience and vast knowledge, must have felt, at times, like he had landed in some alternate universe. Parliament, which consists of two houses—the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and the National Assembly (NA), was like his home ground, but being part of the ACDP caucus, in many ways, must have been very unfamiliar territory to him. I, for example, would describe myself as a crude charismatic with a brave but over-rated sense of relevance. Despite all my Bible reading, prayer and spiritual warfare strategies, I had a shallow knowledge of current and past affairs of state and country and lacked the commensurate respect for those that did.

In the shadow of this giant, Kent Durr, I began to question what aspects of humility I had failed to grasp and embraced dealing with my ignorance.

When I had a speech to make, I would draw from the little knowledge I’d gleaned from committee briefings, hearings and oversight visits and then ask Kent what he understood about the topic. As he would debate the issue with himself and explain why he would say what he said or question what he questioned, I would take notes and compare them with any research I had done.

Consequently, my speeches were always listened to and would include a lot of wisdom and insight while respectfully challenging views from all sides of the House! Kent was a great teacher. He impressed on me that we did not need to know everything but we had a responsibility to talk to those who knew more than we did—to talk to stakeholders, to those implementing and those experiencing the effects of such implementation.

I will always be grateful for this man who lived what he taught. During his years as an MP, Kent gained the respect of his fellow parliamentarians for his work in fostering reconciliation and cooperation among all parties as well as his general contribution as one of the most experienced representatives in Parliament. He had been a Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism in the De Klerk Cabinet and was nominated in 1991 to be an Ambassador to the Court of St James. When Nelson Mandela took over the presidency in 1994, Kent became South Africa’s first High Commissioner to the Court of St James since the country’s departure from the Commonwealth in 1961.

I remember the day I resolved to SERIOUSLY LIGHTEN UP (something I highly recommend) was the day Kent walked into caucus saying, “aren’t we just so conceited? Look at me, acting as if all of Parliament will fall apart if I stop for a moment.” I could see myself in what he was saying, and chuckled—point taken. I think the chuckle was actually a stress release mechanism, a life saver, in fact, and is probably why Jacob Zuma’s infamous chuckle in later years never had quite the negative effect on me that it did on others but like our ex President Zuma, my chuckle became a habit that was not always appropriate. Whenever I felt under attack or saw myself or others taking ourselves too seriously, it was there. Often when I was speaking at meetings or in debates (and even on radio) on topics that were being exaggerated, twisted, or unnecessarily politicised, or when people were being just downright rude and insulting, I would find myself laughing inappropriately, as if at my own private joke. I’m still working on that chuckle and have noticed many speakers have the same annoying habit. Which brings to mind the wisdom I gained from the Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”.

And now I will leave you with one of my most favorite pieces of advice both to live by and to share- “keep your passion but remember firstly, you could be wrong, and secondly, that there are many hills to die on—make sure you stay alive long enough to get to the hill you are meant to die on”.

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