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Mentor or Godfather

By David Osiri
22 September 2021   |   1:12 am
Some people say experience is the best teacher. But, wait. Do you have enough time in a lifetime to get all the experience needed to succeed in life? That popular sentence is better put in the words of Gina Greenlee...

The greatest problem of youths is not money, but mentoring, which is the new goldmine for youths

Some people say experience is the best teacher. But, wait. Do you have enough time in a lifetime to get all the experience needed to succeed in life? That popular sentence is better put in the words of Gina Greenlee, in her book titled – Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road. In that book, she said, “Experience is a master teacher, even when it’s not our own.” The fastest route to learning and success is to pick the brains of those who had the experience, then combine it with yours in a way that fits your unique situation. Experiences can be good treasures in the hands of those who have them. Wise men and women understand this concept. Hence, they get themselves under the tutelage of someone with more experience and knowledge. People with more experience have different approaches and motives for accepting to guide or train a less experienced person. Some are mentors and others are godfathers. These two are more alike than you think and more different than you can imagine. Identifying the differences between a mentor and godfather will help those in need of guidance and direction know who they need in their lives

A mentor is a consultant, counsellor, and cheerleader. They also act as sounding boards, sponsors, and role models. They take on a person with lesser experience and knowledge and help them navigate their path towards their goals. A mentor would give advice, assignments, and feedback. They invest their time and effort in seeing their mentee succeed. Most times, they seek no material reward. Is every person who guides a less experienced individual a mentor? The answer is No.

Mentoring is a brain to pick an ear to listen and a push in the right direction. -John C. Crosby
The first time I paid close attention to the concept of the ‘godfather’ was in Mario Puzo’s novel turned movie “the godfather.” Before then, I knew the Catholics assign godfathers to young boys, more like an uncle. This godfather sponsors the young boy and instructs him on how to live a responsible life. Yet again, I encountered the same concept in Nigerian politics – ‘godfatherism.’ According to the Wiktionary (Nigeria), godfatherism is a form of political corruption in which an influential individual handpicks another, often less influential candidate, to attain leadership in order to exert authority or influence. This phenomenon is due to many reasons including the unpopularity of the latter and incumbency term limits.

Do you know what ties all these concepts with mentoring? Godfatherism and mentorship involve an individual with more power, knowledge, and experience guiding another person with less experience. So, where do we draw the line?

I, for one, understand why people would call a godfather a mentor and vice versa. Not only are they both experienced and successful, their followers or mentees, as the case may be, trust them. Both mentors and godfathers are influential in their field and widely respected. They help their protegees achieve goals. Their followers look up to them for advancement as they heed their advice. In fact, without a closer look, we can call them the same. However, their differences are as vast as their similarities seem close. A mentor is not a godfather, and a godfather is most definitely not a mentor. Let us take a look at the characters that differentiate mentors from godfathers. This is how Dr. Ola Brown Orekunrin puts it – “Political Godfather: Many people think a mentor and a political Godfather are the same things. No, no. Very different! Political Godfathers are people that introduce their godsons/goddaughters into politics in exchange for complete control of their decision making when they get into political positions. This is very different from mentorship”.

A mentor guides their mentee. They show the mentee how to reach their goals. Mentors understand that their success depends on their mentees achieving their plans. Hence, they provide the knowledge and share the experiences to guide the mentee towards achieving their goals. On the other hand, godfathers hide under the umbrella of guidance, to manipulate their followers. They manipulate and control their followers to do their biddings, dangling the proverbial bone of promise of power or connection in front of their followers.

Most mentors are not in the relationship for financial gains. They find their fulfilment in the success of their mentee. They are already successful in their fields and have the desire to make another person a success. Some mentors even spend their own money to sponsor or assist their mentees. Meanwhile, godfathers almost always see their followers as a means to make money and gain material benefits. The godsons, in this case, are extensions of the godfather’s ventures; hence, they make money for their godfathers.

At the onset of a mentoring relationship, mentors and their mentees set the goals that they want to achieve in the relationship. The goals are usually for the mentee. A mentee enters a mentoring relationship with a plan to achieve specific goals. The job of the mentor is to try their possible best to help the mentee achieve them. But, in a godfather/godson relationship, both parties work towards attaining the godfather’s goals. The godson might initially enter the relationship with some goals in mind, but they would realize who calls the shots. Even if the godson has some plans, those of the godfather supersede.

Steve Jobs said: “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.” Mentors are also cheerleaders. They have towed the mentee’s path, so they understand how arduous the journey can be. Because they know that failure is a part of the journey, they are always there to encourage their protegee. Mentors are always willing to share their stories and experiences, even the bad ones, to help their mentees. They always push their mentees to become the best version of themselves possible. I am not saying godfathers do not encourage their followers, but they only do this for other reasons. While a mentor does not seek to gain anything, a godfather will only motivate their godson when they stand to achieve something.

Feedback is one of the necessities of a good mentoring relationship. Mentors make corrections and suggestions to their mentees via feedback. Mentors give feedback to help the growth and advancement of the mentee. Likewise, mentees have free access to share their mentor’s feedback. They can also express their grievances and make suggestions through feedback. Although, it is not the same in godfatherism. The godfather’s word is law, and the protegee has to take it in completely, without question.

Mentoring occurs between people in the same profession or area. A mentor seeks to help people within their industry, helping them with the relevant knowledge and experience. But a godfather does not need their godson to be in the same field. Instead, they would prefer protegees in different professions to help them widen their reach. They see their followers as extensions of themselves.

Some mentoring relationships last a lifetime and can be transcended into friendship. An Olivet Nazarene study states that the average length of a mentoring relationship is 3.3 years. Mentors always remain an essential part of their mentee’s life. Even after achieving the initial purpose of the mentorship, both parties still maintain a cordial relationship. In contrast, a godson is beneficial to his godfather as long as they are useful. The moment the godson is no longer valuable, the relationship ends. Most times, these relationships end on a sour note.

In mentorship, accountability is a two-way street. Mentors and mentees hold one another accountable for their agreements and goals.

Both parties act as checks and balances for each other. But there exists no such thing in the relationship between a godfather and his followers. Most godfathers often make unquestionable decisions and have no obligation to be accountable to their godson.

A mentor allows his mentee to grow. He takes great pride in the success of his protegee and does not mind if his mentee becomes more successful than him. But a godson can never outgrow or outshine his godfather. He will always remain in the shadows of his master and dance to his godfather’s tune. The slightest fallout between a godfather and a son can lead to the collapse of the godson’s business or reign.

Godfathers are not wrong to have, especially in a political setting. The question is – what interest is the godfather serving? Is it for the greater good or self-serving? If you think you need a godfather- good for you. However, mentors are a great blessing. Godfathers have a lot to learn from mentors. Mentorship is an honourable and excellent service to humanity. If a nation has enough mentors, men, and women willing to pass on their knowledge for the greater good, then such a nation is bound to progress.
Osiri aka Mr. Mentomorphosis is a Mentorship Awareness Ambassador