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Mentorship without empathy causes more harm than good

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Yetunde Odugbesan-Omede

Mentorship that lacks empathy often causes more damage than good. As a mentor it is a blessing to be in a position where you are able to help other people in the same ways others have helped you. Mentorship is about paying it forward, it’s about using your current position to guide and lead others to their place of purpose. We often advise young people to find a mentor but never teach them what to specifically look for in a mentor. We don’t warn them that people can fail at being mentors and sometimes they can turn against you if they are not secure within themselves.

Being a mentor and also from my experience as a mentee, I have learned about mentorship from both sides and one thing that I can tell you is that mentor ship that lacks empathy actually does more harm than good. As a mentor, you are tasked with helping people to figure out their own calling and purpose. Helping them to clarify their own vision and provide examples of how you did it, but mentorship is not an opportunity to take advantage of young people’s gifts, talents, and skills. Mentorship is a relationship that must involve mutual respect, no matter the age difference. Mentorship is also understanding that even if you had it difficult and success came much harder for you, that doesn’t give you the excuse to make it harder for someone else because you believe the next person shouldn’t have it easier than you.

Mentorship is about opening the door that was once shut because now you have the ability to open it. Mentorship is about creating space at a table because now you have the power to save a seat. Mentorship is about helping others find their individuality not forcing them to conform to your ideals or values.

Mentorship is also understanding that your role may be for a season and not a lifetime. Mentorship is assuming the responsibility that a portion of someone’s life is in your hands, so you must deal with it gently and with respect. For these reasons and more, I have learned over time that being a mentor is a special privilege. If someone seeks you out and asks for you to mentor them, this is not an opportunity to stroke your ego but a privilege to show the way. And if you find out that you do not have the time to accommodate such relationships, then, by all means, respectfully decline. It is better to decline than to steer people the wrong way because you are too busy.

There are so many young women and men who have been psychologically and emotionally abused by their mentors and because of their mentor’s status or success they take whatever is dished to them quietly while crying inside. I have seen older women belittle their protégés. I have seen women of esteemed caliber try to block professional opportunities and promotions from their so-called mentees. Mentees will not be “mentees” for life…they are meant to grow into the individuals that God has called them to be.

So, it is normal and perhaps a wonderful thing when your mentee now sits at the same table of power with you. The point of real mentorship is to create and build the next generation of leaders. If you have any issue with your mentee rising in the ranks faster and higher than you, then you have a bigger problem to fix within yourself.

As a mentor, never exploit the talents and skills of those you mentor. Mentor them with empathy understanding that all fingers are not equal and although they may be younger or in the early stages of their career, tides often turn and they may be at the head of the line and not the back anymore in due time. Mentor with care, respect and most importantly with empathy. Your ability to pay it forward will be rewarded someway somehow because karma and circle of life has a way of taking care of those who do right by others. Mentor with empathy. Mentor responsibly. Mentor ethically. Mentor with integrity.


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