Paying it forward: The value of mentoring

BHBW's Malisha Awunor shares her passion for mentoring as a tool to drive talent development and employee engagement in the workplace.

When Malisha Awunor, HR Director of BHBW South Africa (previously Barloworld Handling), joined Anglo American as a 22-year-old HR practitioner 20 years ago, her first task was to mentor first-year bursary students. This experience resulted in valued relationships that have lasted to this day, and instilled in her a career-long passion for unlocking the potential of employees through mentoring and coaching.

“A lot of where I am today is due to mentors who either threw me in at the deep end or played a role in creating building blocks for me, which allowed me to grow both professionally and personally,” says Malisha.

“My view is that we have a responsibility to build the future leaders, and mentoring and coaching plays a key role in this. After all, We rise by lifting others.”

BHBW runs both coaching and mentoring programmes, with coaching provided by an external professional and mentoring by experienced members of staff. Their aim is two-fold; to provide an environment where employees feel they can learn, grow and thrive, thus encouraging greater employee engagement; and to support strategic business objectives.


“One of the hottest topics people talk about now is generational differences,” says Malisha. “We need to understand the differences between generations and, more importantly, capitalise on those differences. One of the ways we do this at BHBW is to offer strength-based coaching. This is a coaching process which assesses millennials’ five chief strengths and teaches them to overcome their developmental challenges through using their strengths.”

The core building blocks of coaching are understanding the basic business environment and business basics, and to help individuals develop a sense of self-belief that will allow them to flourish. An important aspect of this is to ensure alignment between the career goals of millennials and the company’s goals, to ensure optimal return on investment.

Based on development needs, five staff members are selected for the coaching programme every six months. Career paths are discussed with a focus on the incumbent’s field of study. An assessment is completed and a report is then generated focussing on their top five strengths. Using this report, a customised coaching programme is developed for each participant. The objective of career goals and alignment through coaching are maintained as the focus with each candidate.


Shorter-term focused coaching is complemented by mentoring, to help individuals grow both professionally and personally within the company and their careers. Mentees are given the opportunity in a non-threatening environment, to share their issues and learn from someone with experience.  Clear guidelines are in place for mentoring at BHBW, with training offered to people who are willing to become mentors.

“As a mentor, you have to make yourself available. It’s about more than making time, it’s about sharing experiences and allowing others to fulfil their potential, to show them that dreams are attainable. For young people, in South Africa in particular, it’s also about breaking down preconceived notions that you have to be from a certain background or school to be successful,” says Malisha.

“In mentoring, you learn a lot about yourself. It’s not about telling someone what to do. It’s a journey of self-discovery for both partners.

When she speaks to her mentees, Malisha always advises them to stay true to themselves and ‘to speak their truth, even if your voice shakes’. She also tells them to set their own limitations and not to fulfill others’ views on their ability.  Also, she says the only standard that they need to uphold is the one they set for themselves because success is not driven by the school that one attended or the car that one drives.

“I also tell them that they must know what their non-negotiables are. That is, they must be clear about setting boundaries on whatever matters relating to their professional or private lives as this speaks to one’s credibility,” she says.

At the end of the day, hard work is the cornerstone of success and every young professional has to put in a lot of effort to get ahead in their careers. And, while there will be setbacks and failures, Malisha always makes it a point to tell her mentees not to let these events paralyse them. Rather, they should learn from them and move forward.

Says Malisha: “I also urge them to share what they learn, because the power of knowledge is in the sharing not in the hoarding. The importance of educating one’ self can never be understated. So I tell my mentees to read and learn so that they can make informed decisions. Lastly, I always tell my mentees to support each other, both in the workplace and in their communities, because our strength lies in our ability to help each other.”