Perhaps never before the need for mentoring was as desperately required as it is today, considering the massive deluge arising out of the age of information. The youth is exposed to all types of different cultures and their related practices; some of which are universal by nature and hence of no significant consequence, but there are certainly different moral, social and professional standards, that have potential to be seen conflicting into our own, both liberal and orthodox principles. Mentoring is not about how to move up to the next level of corporate hierarchy but it entails, much more; in fact, it is about development and guidance towards, building up of behavior and attitudes that may last for a life time. Any delay in mentoring means a problem to handle in future, for sure.
“If you plan for a year, plant a seed. If for ten years, plant a tree. If for hundred years, teach the people…when you teach the people you will reap a hundred year (Kuan tzu Ping). This is not to suggest that teaching and mentoring are synonymous; it is to accept that, some teaching is inclusive in the over- all definition of “Mentoring”.
Amongst the management community, a dreadful confusion is found between mentoring and coaching; to the extent that some managers use it interchangeably. This is not an appropriate application. Mentoring is usually considered to be a long-drawn-out process, during which, what emerges is the growing level of trust and confidence between the mentor and the mentee. Coaching, on the other hand is perceived by many management scientists to be a case of structured learning process; which has an in-built formality to it.
The International Coach Federation defines coaching as: partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. While in a regular dictionary, the entry of mentoring has a simple broad definition of ‘who is a mentor’ -an experienced and trusted adviser.
A mentor is expected to know the line of business a mentee is involved in, while a coach may not need to do so, for reasons that he/she focuses on development of goals of the coachee and assist in setting the timelines for their achievement.
I completely disagree with the notion that a mentor has to be someone with a very high and successfully exciting profile of personal achievements. Nay, the mentor must have the necessary humane qualities and skills to delve into the inner persona of the mentee, for the discovery and emergence of the mentee’s skill and hidden talents. If coincidentally the mentor has some successful accomplishments to his/her profile, it only adds a little more credibility to what he/she teaches or guides the mentee towards. People in their weak judgment and assessment think that a highly successful manager can also naturally be a successful mentor! I DISAGREE!
A mentor has to give himself in service. Providing assistance in the self-discovery is mentoring. Mentoring is not confined and hence coextends with emerging needs beyond any earlier defined boundaries. The perimeter wall is negotiable for extension, always. A teacher (mentor) is better than two books (a German proverb).
No mentor should attempt to fashion the mentee in their mould. The job of the mentors is to create not look-a-like in talent and expertise he/she possesses, but to bring forth, better than their own selves, individuals who are possessed of better skills and ability.
A mentor makes the mentee think. The help is to discover hidden potential. The willingness to spend one’s self completely in brightening the light in the life of others is the hallmark of a reputable mentor. I had, alongside my siblings, found in Professor Rahim, a man of such unique possession.
My father had hired him for giving us tuition in Mathematics and speed dictation -he prevailed and gave himself beyond the call of his duty. A true mentor he was. Mentoring to clone your self is a disastrous path to take; it is meant to create or keep discovering a better person than oneself. Mentoring is an art, therefore it can be acquired by anyone who may choose to be a catalyst for inspiration for all colleagues, young and elderly and new and old.
While appreciating the outcome of mentoring, it is best to be mindful that if we were to ever dismantle the falsified belief that a successful mentee is the cause of a good mentor, then as well, it is always the school and the company that unnoticeably is mentoring us all, all the time. Suggestion is the art of mentoring.
An empty mind is not akin to an open mind. A mentor converts the emptiness into openness of the mind that is willing to receive, all that is good and noble. Awakening to new vistas of thinking, alongside the enabler who jostles the mind of the young to exploit natural curiosity, is the essence of mentoring. The holding of hands of a mentee in his/her journey to arrive at the threshold of their respective minds calling, is conscious mentoring.
Who can be mentors? If they play an important role in our lives, shouldn’t they be chosen, with care and concern? Is it only the high achievers? Not necessarily. We witness mentors, who may never acquire fame and visibility, while the mentees go to attain glory and recognition. Many coaches, for example in soccer, may have never played beyond club league, but they still make great mentors, for reasons they are blessed with tough minds that are disposed toward rationability, mental agility, etc.
Lata Mangeshkar, the nightingale of South Asia, was tutored in music, from a very young age. Does anyone remember or even care to know who her mentor was? No. Even the mediocre mentor can produce gurus of mentees with solidity of mind to self discover, God-given talents. And that precisely is the job of a good mentor.
Mentors ought to be good listeners. Just as in conducting interviews, it is expected of the interviewer to keep his ears and eyes active and not the tongue, so as well, while mentoring ask a leading question and then allow for the mentee to express his/her thoughts. It is only upon listening alternately, would the mentor get to know what areas, within the ambit of the individuals personality are deficient and need beefing up. A good mentor suggests, never instructs improvements. By the very nature of the job description of a mentor, he is required to act parental and that creates and lays upon the mentors shoulder a heavy responsibility.
How close should the mentor get to the mentee? It’s a question that requires absolute clarity. Close enough to create confidence in the mind of the mentee, enabling them to express their views, without fear or favor; and distant enough to ensure that professional standards aren’t compromised on the basis of either a reality or an assumption. If the mentor and mentee are of opposite gender, then care has to be exercised to see that the local cultural and social standards are never transgressed.
The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist