Amanda Dambuza on mentorship: “A mentor is not going to tell you what to do with your life”

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Amanda Dambuza.
Amanda Dambuza.
@Amanda.Dambuza Instagram

At some point in our working lives, many of us start to feel like we're not growing anymore and begin to question the direction of our careers. 

It's usually at this point that one will start thinking about ways to get some kind of guidance - whether it's in the form of a life coach or a mentor.

CEO of Uyandiswa Project Management Services, award-winning businesswoman, and author, Amanda Dambuza is popularly known as someone that places a lot of value on mentorship and is a mentor herself. In an effort to reach more people with her mentorship and guidance, she also recently started a monthly mentorship program which airs on YouTube.

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She talks to TRUELOVE about her personal and professional journey and shares some insightful gems on mentorship.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a mother to three beautiful and gorgeously spirited little human beings. My time is spent raising and nurturing them alongside my husband. The twin girls are almost 14 and my little guy will be turning 11 later this year. It is such a privilege to be their mother because I have come from a very difficult childhood being raised by extended family.

I am the last of three children. My parents went their separate ways when I was born and I have never met my father or any of his side of the family. It is as though he never existed but exist he did. My mother couldn’t look after us so she left us in the Transkei and came to Johannesburg to find work. It was years before I was introduced to her but she never stayed, her life was in Johannesburg. That is a whole long story which I write about in my memoir Baked in Pain.

I only ever want to see people better than when I found them because I have been at rock bottom and had to boot strap my life to get to the top and I am still rising

Being a mother means an opportunity to rewrite my own history and work towards the legacy that I would like to leave behind long after I am gone. It is a gift and I thank God for choosing me.

Please tell us a bit more about the work you do and its impact.

I am the author of Baked in Pain, a memoir about how I rose above my circumstances rife with segregation, abuse and hardship to becoming a globally celebrated business woman and humanitarian. I have also authored the children’s book A Brave Girl named AYAH, an educational story that affords caregivers an opportunity to tackle hard topics with their children in order to lift the vail of silence around abuse in their homes. It is a story of rising, hope, resilience and hard work. I created the character AYAH to inspire the millions of under-represented children across the globe with the aim of inspiring them to reach for their dreams and never limit their imagination. AYAH reminds them to know that they are the heroes and heroines of their own stories.

I am also the Executive Producer and Creator of Vastly Sage Talkshow on You Tube, a platform through which I reach audiences around the globe with the aim of affording them a space to tackle hard conversations in order for healing and transformation to take place. This show brings forth expert experience and shared personal life experiences with guests as well. I also run Vastly Sage Mentorship, a monthly mentorship platform on YouTube where I impart all of my lessons in business and personal life to help people reach a higher expression of self.

I don’t believe [mentorship] is still about one being senior and the other junior, but rather about learned experiences that are relevant for the one needing the mentorship, the mentee

This talk show and mentorship platform is ably supported by the annual Vastly Sage Brunch which brings together a hand-picked selection of inspiring guest speakers who pour their hearts and souls into inspiring and motivating all those in attendance with moving stories of courage and going for your dreams, no matter where you have come from. The common theme throughout these platforms is practical and applicable advice, resources and tools to empower the audience. They are resource and educational centres, something I am very proud of.

I have also started a therapy programme to support my Vastly Sage efforts. To this end I have partnered with Lungile Lechesa, a clinical psychologist, and Dr Clementine Chawane, a Psychiatrist, to run an 8-week group therapy programme where they can enable 8 people with the necessary tool kits to confront what is weighing them down and to help them push on with their healing and transformation. I am already looking at the second intake.

I am very passionate about helping people master themselves. Everything Vastly Sage is part of my humanitarian efforts. I also have the privilege of being part of the Influential Women’s Circle, a group of women who raise funds on behalf of UNICEF SA.

A mentor is not going to tell you what to do with your life. You will still need to do the hard work yourself. There truly is no substitute for focused hard work.

However, my primary job is Group Chief Executive of UYANDISWA; a group of companies that include project management consulting, leadership development and coaching, property investments and private equity investments.

All of this I do alongside my Non-Executive Directorship for various companies both listed and private.

My journey, which is well documented in my book and articulated on every platform I speak on, has been about rising above, self-belief and hard work to get where I am. It is underpinned by faith and compassion. I only ever want to see people better than when I found them because I have been at rock bottom and had to boot strap my life to get to the top and I am still rising.

How would you define mentorship?

Mentorship is a relationship where the one with more experience, exposure and knowledge is able to pass along what they have learned to another.

Mentors are everywhere and all around us. It simply depends on what you are trying to address

The mentor benefits because they are able to impart knowledge in an area they care about and ensure that best practices are passed along; meanwhile, the mentee benefits because they have proven that they are ready to take the next step in their life and can receive the extra help needed to make that advancement.

Why do you think it is important for people to have mentors?

Getting to the next level of your life - be it career or otherwise - is something that can both be exciting and very daunting. It requires careful consideration; planning and execution. You must have a clear vision of what you want for your life and your professional career; how you progress it from one level to another is based on and guided by that. A mentor can help guide you in the right direction and be a sounding board for the decisions you make. A mentor is not going to tell you what to do with your life. You will still need to do the hard work yourself. There truly is no substitute for focused hard work.

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Did you have a mentor?

I never had a mentor growing up or in my career. It was much later in my corporate career, in fact,  just before I left in 2014 that I had a few conversations with a colleague who took an interest in me when I was in corporate. He was much older and he took an interest in my well-being as I was always pushing so hard.

I have also seen that women tend to disqualify themselves from big opportunities because of fear of being judged to be too ambitious. These are all the societal and mental barriers that we have to keep fighting off and change

He asked me to just pause and talk about myself for a moment. Let me just say all I did was cry because no one had ever taken such an interest in my well-being before and I had never afforded myself nor anyone the chance to just think and focus on me. It was always about others.

That was a gift I will always cherish. When I got into business full time, I had my husband’s best friend as my sounding board whenever I was going to do a business transaction, be it selling off equity in my company or buying equity in other companies and also structuring my companies etc. He was amazing and always made time for me even if it meant putting aside his own work.

He imparted knowledge that would see me through many transactions. He is no longer with us, sadly. I lost a person whose opinion and advice I respected and valued deeply. I had to grieve that loss and carry on without him advising me but his lessons have equipped me for a lifetime of business and transactions. I am forever and deeply grateful to him. I pass those onto others and hope they would do the same.

How can one go about in finding a mentor?

Mentors are everywhere and all around us. It simply depends on what you are trying to address. I do advise people not to hide behind needing a mentor when they just want to be friends with successful people or want their connections. People who typically carry the profile of being a mentor have no time to waste and they will be going out of their way to help you, so don’t play games.

I believe a good mentor must possess the following characteristics:

  • Extensive experience in life and/or their own career
  • Experience in a relevant field makes the learnings so much easier to transfer but this is not a deal breaker
  • Has overcome relatable challenges
  • Must be willing to help and see that as their purpose
  • Credible and trustworthy character
  • Must not feel threatened by empowering others
  • Must make the time

Overall, you will know what feels right when you have met a good match. You must feel comfortable with your mentor. You should feel like they have a lot to offer you that is directly related to your field of work. If this is not true within the first few times you meet, it is perfectly acceptable to end the mentorship. Remember: It’s not a failure to move on and seek someone new.

You may want to request a meet-up or interview before formally accepting a mentorship arrangement. Here is an important note, though: Keep in mind that both of you will be getting to know one another during this meet-up, and both of you will be accepting your roles—not just you accepting them. Prepare to answer questions about your background and expectations, and try to make a good impression.

Be committed and do the homework. No mentor will and should tell you how to live your life. That is completely up to you, show gratitude for their time and expertise and push ahead with vigour.

What advice would you give to women who are looking to reach their full potential?

Women were really born to lead. We show this in the roles we play particularly within family structures. We are wonderful at it. Sadly, we get to the boardroom, get corporate roles and decide to be something else; something that we are not. We are nurturing and encouraging by our very nature.

What you believe is what you will become

You must be comfortable within your own skin as a woman. Own your role in society and use the strengths innate in you to progress. Build relationships with your male counterparts; respect them as you would your fellow species. Show compassion. Seek to support and build. The prominent roles are there; you may not even need to fight that hard if you just stay true to your strengths and learn to navigate the landscape you operate in. Every move you make must be to set up the next couple of moves so think about every action. Let us own our power and not be shy or timid to showcase our capability. Get the necessary skills and build your competence in whatever you do. No one will ever take that away from you.

It is a fact of life that we were brought up in a patriarchal society that labels women as weak and too emotional to lead. Most of us grew up within cultures where a woman’s place was at home rearing children; if they worked; they had no voice, no power and no mandate. As a result, some women believe you cannot have it all.

I have also seen that women tend to disqualify themselves from big opportunities because of fear of being judged to be too ambitious. These are all the societal and mental barriers that we have to keep fighting off and change. Gone are those days! We are raising a very different generation. I believe that we can have it all. We do have it all. All of that boils down to your own outlook on life.

What defines your all? The buckets may not all be full at the same time; decide which bucket should always be full. What is important to you? Make the sacrifice you need to without dimming your own light. I am a great leader, an awesome businesswoman, compassionate humanitarian, a fabulous wife and a mother. I am also many other things. I am capable of it all and I do my best in each and every one of them. What you believe is what you will become.  

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