In April 2016, I was privileged to participate in the Regional Young African Leadership Initiative; President Barack Obama’s flagship program of building young leaders. During the initial phase of the program, we were taken through the Steve Covey’s seven Habits of highly effective people. It is here I first understood the concept of win-win. After completion, I joined the alumni network which I continue to get opportunities and mentorship.
According to the business dictionary, mentorship is a system under which a senior or experienced individual is assigned to act as an advisor, counselor, or guide to a junior or trainee. In the realm of health, mentorship is overlooked. As a strong proponent and beneficiary, I share my insights based on working with different people both in Kenya and beyond who are leading change. Upon inquiring what propelled them to be strong leaders, their responses have been consistent, strong mentorship. In health, every person has unique experience and valuable insights that can spur innovative thinking for other staff at different levels in their careers.
But why do we need mentorship, you may ask. Mentorship plays a fundamental role in developing supportive and encouraging relationships, guiding the health workforce in developing personally & professionally. Evenly, I have seen mentorship promote mutuality, and understanding of maintaining professional boundaries. Besides, mentorship is an avenue of communicating information surrounding expectations, learning, opportunities, and stressors. Finally, I recognize mentorship as a way of socializing.
So where does one begin? I equate finding a mentor to finding a partner; the person we always strive for shows up unplanned. This means that we should always be ready to engage with people and let relationships develop naturally, do not force it. Go where you meet people with the same interests as yours; after all relationships are not all about business. Whenever you attend a conference, be next with relevant people, if you desire to connect with a reproductive health expert, do not sit next to a caterer. No offense to caterers. In that case, you will be able to share experiences that can make a difference in your career. While attending a high-level meeting of stakeholders and donors of RMNCAH, I remember sitting next to a senior doctor who doubles as deputy chief of party for the better part of a seven-day conference. He took me through the art of listening in healthcare; a gift I will never get elsewhere. I hope to share more on this on networking subject.
Once you have identified a mentor (s) as I always recommend having multiple, as a mentee, you need to be proactive. A mentor is mostly an older person with much experience but not always so. I have been personally mentored by someone 8 years younger. Start by developing not only short-term goals but long-term ones. Once you share goals, be available, responsible, and teachable. This ensures you use mentor’s time wisely by asking thoughtful questions and discussing real challenges rather than catching up or asking questions you can find answers on your own. Ensure you honor your commitments and appreciate your mentor. As for the mentors, once you accept this role, give feedback both good and constructive one at the right time if possible and when deemed effective. Honest feedback is a propeller of growth. Also, look for opportunities for your mentee to improve their performance and learning. With every party playing its role, we anticipate realizing great fruits.
Many shy away from being mentors. It is for this reason that I commence with the benefits of mentorship to a mentor. By actively and meaningfully engaging as a mentor, you are breeding the next generation of leaders. I recall a conversation with my boss who triples as a mentor and supporter about challenging him on the legacy he wants to leave behind after his tenure come to an end. The dialogue ended with the conclusion of true legacy is the (greater) people of next-generation one builds when alive. Therefore, if all that you learnt, achieved, accumulated, or accomplished as healthcare personnel dies with you when you die, then you are a certified generational failure. As a mentor, push your mentee out of comfort zone, share knowledge and wisdom, advice on how to navigate challenges. Their self-esteem and confidence shall surely grow. However, remember that you only have as much influence in mentees’ lives as they have value for you. Anytime you try to have more influence than they have value for you, you will be manipulating them. Another benefit is that a mentor is exposed to fresh perspectives, ideas, and approaches. This is more applicable to baby boomers who can learn much from millennials in terms of technology, trends, preferences, and tastes not only of health consumers but also real-life situations. Moreover, mentorship as the greatest art of leadership is a golden opportunity to give back and share your knowledge. You do not need to retire to start mentoring since your mentees already recognize you as an expert and somebody to look up to. Equally, mentorship can extend your professional development. Imagine going to an interview being asked,” What else have you achieved in your role?” This can determine whether you gonna go up the ladder or miss it. Finally, mentorship gives a chance to reflect on your own goals and practices as you are a role model. This brings forth self-awareness, learning gaps, ability to handle criticism as well as giving constructive feedback. This eventually influences personal leadership, problem-solving skills, and coaching styles which may result in career development. It is not in vain to be a mentor.
There are more mentees compared to mentors globally. They seek mentorship to advance their professions beyond what the company/organization offer. Through this, they learn new skills such as analytical, reflective, inter-personal, etc required for growth by observing their mentors or through challenges they solve in the process. When mentee takes advice on developing strengths and overcoming weakness, what you expect is the shattering of glass ceilings. This can potentially lead to increased visibility and recognition. Once the mentee’s status achievements and potentials are highlighted, the self-esteem and confidence and boosted, and who knows, somebody may recognize mentee for a particular post within or outside the organization as opposed to just being another cog in the machine. Furthermore, the mentee is exposed to divergent thinking and can be a culturally competent person. Finally, a mentee can instantly create a network within and outside the organization which acts as social safety net as well as social capital.
As health personnel, we do not exist in a vacuum; we work in or for organizations and institutions that are also beneficiaries of mentorship. With continuous mentorship culture, an organization not only increase employee retention but also acquire the best talents at minimal cost compared to headhunting. This is possible through a continued culture of personal and professional growth. Over time, the institution experiences improved staff morale, motivation and performance, and high productivity as the staff are likely to have increased job satisfaction. Mentorship is also a great way of sharing desired institution values, behavior, and attitudes which ensures everyone in the organization is moving in the same direction, making work easier for managers and leaders. Mentorship also brings recognition to the organization. I remember when I was nominated as global 120 under 40 family planning young leaders, my institution through my mentor mobilized votes. The endorsement and recommendation accorded to me were not only a win to me but also to both my learning institution and employer.
As a nurse’s watchwoman, I have lived a life as both mentor and mentee. Every piece of knowledge I have is something that has been shared by someone else. If you understand it as I do, mentoring becomes your true legacy. It is the greatest inheritance you can give to others. It is why you should get up every day to teach and be taught. Let us all embrace it. Can we have mentorship clubs in our workplace?
From August to the end of October, I am offering mentorship on applying for a master’s scholarship abroad. If you feel you are a candidate or know a candidate, reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org
About Chepkirui Hildah
She is a nurse’s watchwoman. She is currently pursuing MSc Health Economics and Policy (University of Birmingham), holds MSc Global Health (University of Global Health Equity) and BScN and Public Health (Kenyatta University). She is a Chevening scholar, 120 under 40 global family planning leader, Ashoka changemaker fellow, YALI alumni, Kericho Youth governor. Connect with her on www.linkedin.com/in/chepkiruihildah