Interview with Tshidi Gule: On getting the most from mentorship

TshidiGule400x400Congratulations on your book ‘’Rough diamond’’ Why a book on mentoring which is probably not the most obvious choice of topic for a book by a medical doctor?

Wow, a brilliant question. I’m notorious for bringing up unexpected subjects in my personal and professional networks, so in a way, being a non-conformist comes naturally. I always knew I wanted to focus ‘Rough Diamond‘s narrative on entrepreneurship and mentorship rather than medicine because of the climate facing many youth today. We have bold dreams, but are lacking access to the wisdom and principles that make those dreams thrive under pressure. It became far more valuable for me to share the lessons that I truly believe will uplift and set up other aspiring and emerging innovators who are as crazy as me to go out there and get their concepts out to market. So ‘Rough Diamond’ couldn’t have been just about my love of medicine; it had to be a conversation about daring to dream and what constructive lessons guide you to realize those dreams. That’s why Mentorship took centre stage.


As a medical student, when you needed help you did not turn to a doctor but to a businesswoman. Why drove that decision and what has that taught you about how to choose mentors?

When I approached Basetsana Khumalo, my decision was both personal and well considered. I’ve been under the wisdom and mentorship of people I deeply love and respect all my life: my parents. Any child lucky to grow up the way I did, with teachers as parents, is already set up to succeed if they apply themselves! I deliberately chose a businesswoman at that point in my life because I already had doctors in my personal circle. Medispace, in its infancy, came to me during my 4th year of study.

I wanted to brave the idea of creating a business out of my passion for preventative medicine and I desired to meet someone who had made a transition into business successfully. Sure, a doctor paired up with a businesswoman seems odd, because most mentors feel more comfortable in their fields of expertise. Our willingness to walk this road together was based on the shared values we have as women, and the vast knowledge Basetsana has to offer a teachable and open mind. Her pursuit of mastery won me over from the day we met because that’s my thing too…and I’m still learning, and loving the process!


What did you learn through your own mentoring experience about what makes mentoring effective?

▪Mentorship works at its best if you are clear about WHY you want it. And in the age of social media, name-dropping and status chasing, many mentees are reckless with the responsibility that comes with sustaining a healthy mentorship relationship.

▪Mentorship is not a stage, it’s a privilege, no matter who your mentor is. You are in a privileged seat if you are exposed to some of the world’s best minds and experience. For this alone, it requires mutual respect for each other’s time, space, privacy and boundaries.

▪Be open minded about who can impart the lessons you seek. Don’t assume that the best mentor’s traits are based purely on their credentials. Look deeper, look at character, personality, personal stories and what makes them tick. What has served me most in this journey has been remaining flexible in who could provide me with the insights I needed at different phases of my growth as an entrepreneur. Staying open to new experiences (another lesson from my parents) has kept my mentorship journey circle ever fascinating and the lessons abundant.

▪I keep an inner circle of 3 mentors who provide me with a solid foundation ‘The Elders’ and I enjoy their similarities and diversity. I trust their wisdom beyond measure. They’ve gone the distance and still amaze with their infinite strategic power. Potency in 3 doses! There is strength in a shared perspective and collective intelligence.


Who makes a good mentor?

A good mentor for me is an individual whose experience, story and authority provide a rich foundation for others to learn and grow from, both professionally and personally. They are generous as they are firm, they support without taking over. They provide a soft landing for personal conversation and a strong sense of focus in matters of the mentee’s interest. They enjoy a road that leads to growth, results and personal mastery. They are not immune to a mentee’s inevitable humanity, mistakes will happen.


What are some of the commonly held views about mentoring that youve come across that have no basis?

This is a tough one, because ev en mentorship experts hardly agree on the structure of these relationships! I think the most commonly held view I’ve encountered is the myth that mentorship relationships should never involve people you have personal relationships with. I think that opinion is informed by a lack of boundaries, which can breed a sense of discomfort for both mentee and mentor. Mentor and mentee must be clear on what appropriate behaviour is and what isn’t. This will help manage a lot of the more distressing side-effects of a new mentor-mentee relationship.


I imagine you mentor others. What are some key questions to ask a mentor?

I already am a mentor to a few young individuals and it remains a learning curve for me. I’m big on promoting an attitude of self-motivation, diligence and consistency in my current group. My only wish is that I had more time to spend with my mentees. Being in the growth phase of my own venture restricts my time but the group comprises very self-aware and respectful youngsters so they access me whenever possible and we make the most of it. Some key questions I believe are important to ask a mentor once you start interacting with them include: what they see in you, what they believe it takes to succeed, what resources helped them get to where they are today and if they mentored you, what would they want you to learn in the process.


What entrepreneurial lessons have you learnt from others that has made you a better entrepreneur and medical professional?

There are plenty so I’ll pick the 3 most influential lessons that continue to empower and inspire me today:

▪Less is more: This applies to every financial investment and human capital lesson I’ve had to learn in the early stages. Resources are limited when starting out, so it’s incredibly crucial to learn how, as Mr Gule likes to say “to get the best outcome from the least resources” I’ve learned the hard way sometimes that you don’t get the best team/infrastructure/opportunities by spending more time or money, you get it by assessing the risk of each investment.

▪A good heart needs to be matched by a smart head: As a leader, it’s very tempting to want to be liked by your peers, but it’s even more important to respect the needs of your dream/vision. A well-liked entrepreneur who can’t manage the demands of the business is a liability to their own business. It’s a painful but important lesson. Naivety has a price tag and you need to stay vigilant while being kind.

▪Failure is as important as the wins: Many entrepreneurs fear failing, and I was no different starting out. It hurts, at every level. But the beauty of falling face down is that you learn the true value of what it takes to get your vision to a sustainable phase. You have to know that getting it wrong is part of the learning process. I learned some of my most powerful lessons on how to grow my business going forward from my biggest failures. And the humility of it is good medicine for your ego!


Your organization Medispace provides solutions related to employee wellness. What are some of the challenges organizations face in this area and what investments can organizations proactively make to promote a healthy workforce?

▪Productivity fatigue: Persisting cycles of absenteeism and protracted sick leave plague organizations of all sizes. Without getting scientific about the data we find, this reality inevitably stalls profitability goals and objectives. And unfortunately, if these cycles were managed proactively rather than reactively, organizations would enjoy a much healthier and productive workforce, but more importantly, build more effective succession channels.

▪Talent Retention: Exits at executive, and management levels by highly skilled minds this year has brought this challenge to our attention as wellness strategists. Even more uncomfortable was the discovery that most of the exits are due to health issues, rather than job transfers, immigration and better pay etc. Avoiding this brain drain is critical for organizations who need more experienced leaders to transfer expertise to emerging leaders.

▪Wellness Programme Distortion: I think the most creatively frustrating challenge for organizations seeking to inspire their workforce towards better health habits is something I call “WPD”. Many companies who introduced wellness programmes have reported poor adoption and utilization by their employees. Most programmes invest too little on two critical steps of a successful employee wellness programme: Goal-Mapping and Engagement. We’ve ended up customizing programmes because they are more valuable. You cannot shift an organization’s understanding on wellness with a generic model; you need areas of personalization and customization.

▪Integration of care: Integrating technology with employee wellness goals is undoubtedly the future of Employee Wellness. It caters to the growing need to use more relevant channels to inspire and empower employees, while monitoring the impact of wellness programmes.


Your advice to entrepreneurs is to avoid the ‘’self neglect syndrome’’. How do you do that for yourself? 

I’m protective about how I spend my time. I go as far as giving our practice manager the authority to hold me accountable so that I don’t overextend myself. One of the changes we put in this year was to curb after-hour business commitments and to keep my Sundays as work-free days. It’s really reduced the burden of managing a demanding growing business! I also have my own team of medical professionals who, I regularly consult for my wellness needs, from my physician, gynaecologist, massage therapist, personal trainer and therapist. I’m a firm believer in never being too proud to ask for help, I do my best to follow my own advice and I’m getting good at admitting I’m only human!


Tshidi’s profile


Tshidi Gule is a medical doctor and author of ‘Rough Diamond’ an entrepreneurship and mentorship memoir with critical insights based on her journey as a young start-up entrepreneur and innovator. Tshidi is founder and Managing Director of Medispace Lifestyle Institute, a dynamic centre of health excellence providing innovative health solutions to organizations in Southern Africa. Her expertise in Workplace Wellness and Resilience assists international organizations navigate employee health challenges successfully. An accomplished and dynamic keynote speaker on health leadership and youth entrepreneurship excellence, Tshidi has received several Honours including; Top 20 South African medical professional Health Hero in Longevity magazine, South Africa’s leading health and lifestyle magazine and True Love’s magazine’s Top 100 Inspirational Women of 2015. She is Trustee of ‘Let’s Build Our Country Fund’ an organization that funds youth education and provides mentorship to tertiary students.


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