Coaching the stars


Let’s say you were a young person with a dream. And let’s suppose you were incubating your dream in Zimbabwe — a place that we can acknowledge gives dreams a tough run for their money.

By Thembe Khumalo

But, as dreamers do, you would persist in chasing the realisation of your dream; thinking about it, strategising, building, recording and generally making progress.

There comes a time in the life of every dream where it’s going to need more than just dreaming if it is to ever become more than just a dream.

It’s going to need other people — people who can help you.

It’s going to need money — money you probably don’t have, if you are a young person in Zimbabwe.

Chances are, you are going to need a mentor, a coach, a sponsor or perhaps even all three.

This week, I have spent some time with young Zimbabweans like this.

They are finalists in the Seedstars World contest, where they stand a chance to win up to $1 million worth of investment in an early stage start-up contest.

They also get access to support in the form of coaching and mentorship.

The winner from Zimbabwe will travel to Mozambique for the regional finals and then to Switzerland to join start-ups and investors from all over the world.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our young people and I’m excited to be part of the resource base that will give them a better chance, not just at succeeding in this competition, but also at succeeding in life as an entrepreneur.

Mentorship is a not a new concept, but has in the last decade or so started to gain recognition as an important aspect of development in management and leadership.

In a mentoring relationship, the mentee tends to set the agenda and the mentor responds accordingly in a formal or informal way, helping you navigate your career and providing advice in decision-making.

A mentoring relationship tends to go on over an extended period of time, and is more holistic and more abstract.

Your mentor might not be present for every big milestone, but they can provide general counsel for navigating your career and your life.

A business coach can help you be more successful by observing how you perform certain tasks and offering constructive criticism for improvement.

They can enable you to learn a skill, overcome a challenge or improve your performance.

Usually, this relationship is more structured and very hands-on.

The coach provides more short-term tactical input for achieving specific goals and also helps you anticipate obstacles, which may come up in the course of your journey.

As a certified life strategies coach, I help people develop strategies and apply them in their own context to reach their goals.

It also means that I can help to make more options available to people so that they are able to make new and more appropriate choices, helping them remain focused on their outcomes without becoming attached to them myself.

All of these skills are useful to young people with dreams, but not only to them.

Anyone can benefit from having someone who walks alongside them on a tricky part of their journey.

Sometimes we don’t recognise the skills and resources we have for navigating life until someone else shows us, draws them out of us, and helps them remain accessible to us when that person is gone.

In a coaching relationship, both the coach and the person being coached drive the relationship.

You can reach out to your coach, but your coach can also reach out to you.

Both coaches and mentors help business professionals and entrepreneurs to develop the skills, qualities and confidence they need to achieve their goals.

The sponsorship relationship is slightly different.

In marketing, we understand a sponsor to be a partner who helps market a product by endorsing or resourcing it.

In a business relationship, a sponsor is usually an experienced and influential person, who leverages his or her influence for the benefit of the one he is sponsoring.

Sponsors offer resources

More often than not, the resources come in the form of connections to other important and influential people — the opening of doors, if you will.

If you have a sponsor, you are more likely to get hired, appointed to a coveted position, or assigned to an important project than someone who is on his own.

This relationship is driven by the sponsor, who advocates for you publicly and also privately.

A Harvard Business Review report in 2010 titled The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling said one reason that so few women hold the really top business positions is that they are over-mentored and under-sponsored.

Perhaps they are not aware of this critical resource and the difference it could make to their lives; or perhaps they find it difficult to identify the right people to support them.

More likely, the sponsors available are mostly male, and they are unenthusiastic about sponsoring a younger woman.

The young people I have been with this week in the Seedstars competition have some very impressive projects.

It is easy to support and advocate for them because their ideas are good, they work hard and they are full of enthusiasm and energy.

You become filled with hope for our country when you see what young people can do with very little resources, and the ideas they can develop with very little exposure.

What has been interesting to me is to see the improvement in the quality of applicants from the previous year.

The ideas are more developed and better articulated, and the people themselves are more confident and hopeful.

Our country is a paradox.

 Thembe Khumalo is a brand builder, storyteller and certified life coach


  1. Great read Thembe. I had never thought of a sponsor in that way before, but now that you’ve put it down, it strikes me just how important this kind of relationship is. This country sure does give dreams a run for their money – but helps so much to have this information out there!

Comments are closed.