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So when is mentoring a good idea and when is it not? Does everyone need a mentor? How to get a mentor? Here's help.
Over the last few years, having a ‘mentor’ has become a fad. This is due to the noise we see around silicon valley and top executives having a bunch of mentors. There are now even startups dedicated to mentoring and global networking solutions like Lunchclub have made this more pronounced.
In the Indian context and the early career professional context, mentors are a way of life (from a relative who probably is in the line of work you are, an alumnus that you reach out to for choosing the right job to apply for during campus placements, and even your own parents if you are taking up the family business).
Mentors or ‘gurus’ are more pronounced in the western economy probably due to the lack of filial and social support systems that help to ensure you make better decisions in life and at work, which are there in the Indian context.
Now, mentors are becoming more common with corporate jobs and urban, more individualized lifestyles.
So when is mentoring a good idea and when is it not? Does everyone need a mentor? How should you select a mentor?
Here are some of my thoughts:
Everyone needs to be learning continuously. While there is an evident need that young people, starting out on their careers need to be mentored – mentoring is not a function of age but a ‘gap in thinking’ that can be filled by another individual.
Pro Tip: Instead, keep a check on what you may need mentoring for – managing your lifestyle, staying updated with buzzwords, shifts in your industry.
The most common misuse that I see between mentors and mentees is when a mentee uses a mentor as a teacher. No, a mentor’s job isn’t to teach you Digital Marketing, Data Analytics, or Options Trading.
Don’t have a mentor for stuff you can learn on Coursera or an intensive Googling session. It’s a waste of your time as a young person. Why? Because you become dependent on someone else to do your grunt work, instead of becoming better at learning yourself. This is very common in India where most of us grow up doing rote learning in school or hiring tuition teachers to feed us the right questions and answers for exams.
Pro Tip: Instead, learn as much as you can by yourself and pay for a course or a professional to help you with either resource or for a doubt-solving session.
Mentoring when provided by organizations as an incentive can often be a non-quantitative benefit or perk. You see this very often in arts and culture where being mentored by a senior artist or writer is passed off as a legitimate benefit, instead of compensating young artists.
Since mentoring is qualitative, personal, and seems like it has huge value to your professional growth, many young people are duped into picking something for the sole sake of the mentoring. Mentees also don’t know the capabilities of mentors in many cases, and even during a dissatisfactory experience, cannot raise their voices against someone who is considered a senior or a leader.
Pro Tip: Instead, find a coach! Just like a personal fitness trainer, you pay a coach for their time giving them the respect of a mentor, but they also need to be qualified, skilled at what they are mentoring you about, and have to meet certain targets that make them be deserving of your time.
If you have been on Twitter you’d not have missed threads like, “I am turning 40, here’s what I wish I knew in 20’s” or “People in your 50’s what would you do differently?”
Let’s face it, most of us are in jobs (Data Scientist, Product Marketing Manager, Illustrator) that did not exist when we were younger and definitely not in the era of people who are between 40-70 today.) There are, of course, tons of people who have relevant experience or pivoted enough to understand but most have no freaking idea.
For example – Digital Transformation talks by leaders from digitally naive industries.
The best early career advice I had was from Kaushik Subramanian (who went to MICA, INSEAD and now works at Stripe via McKinsey and Facebook) and Varun Dua (CEO, Acko). Both are only a few years older than I am.
Pro Tip: Instead, find mentors and people doing well that you respect in your own industry who are perhaps a few years older or even younger than you, who could have the gift of hindsight, but are also culturally attuned to your times. Having diverse perspectives from across the board is more helpful than listening to one person in their 50’s who is drunk on their own perspective because it worked for them.
During World War II, the Army received a diagram that showed all of the places the planes were usually damaged the most during combat. The engineers had to find new ways to protect these most commonly damaged areas.
But someone called Abraham Wald, completely disagreed. According to him, the team were looking at the planes that came back, meaning that the damage was not critical. Wald pointed out that they should do the exact opposite of what the Army was planning to do. According to him, they should understand that the undamaged areas on the diagram were the reason that the aircraft was able to make it back.
What Abraham Wald found was a logical error known as Survival Bias.
Image source: Wikipedia
Everyone you take advice, mentorship or guidance has survivorship bias (including yours truly, writing this humble piece).
Pro Tip: Instead, seek contrarian views, look beyond the obvious, don’t agree too soon, don’t commit too soon, avoid people whose certainty comes from anecdotes and their own survivorship bias.
Leaders, mentors, coaches all love mentoring:
“I want to give back”
“I believe in the youth”
“I want to share what I have learned along the way”
The truth isn’t that mentors are awful people. It’s simply that mentoring and seeing someone do well makes one feel good about yourself.
“Hey I work 5 days a week and then mentor kids who are aspiring to become athletes” sounds better than saying “I work 5 days a week and then mentor kids because I am bored so I feel a sense of gratification when I give my expired wisdom to people who don’t know any better to question it”.
There are no free lunches, so always ask your mentor what’s in it for them.
In fact, the best mentoring happens when a mentee is chosen by the mentor because they see potential in them and want to groom them to a particular role or skill.
This is why succession planning has worked for centuries, across kingdoms, continents, and boardrooms. The King chooses the most deserving son. The CEO chooses her candidate with the highest potential and so on.
Pro Tip: Instead of choosing a mentor who just wants to mentor for mentoring’s sake or a mentee looking for prestige value – both parties should have skin in the game or equally vested interest to see the other party grow.
Most mentoring sessions are painful for the mentor and pointless for the mentee.
Mentors have little context of your life and internal drives. They have lesser time to understand this.
Mentees aren’t always nuanced at asking great questions that can unlock a mentor’s true potential.
Mentors are chosen by mentees because they are successful at what they do, but being good at work doesn’t mean being good at mentoring.
Mentees are often overwhelmed by the seniority of a mentor. Or, undervalue a mentor who’s not famous or senior enough.
Pro Tip: Instead of choosing a mentor for their fame, name, success, choose a mentor who wants to be a coach and actively spends time getting better at it! Also, be a mentee who invests time – ask specific questions that aren’t google-able and adds value to the mentor’s time too!
Hope this post helps you maximize your potential as a mentee, and make the best of your mentoring experience.
Published here first.
Image source: a still from Marathi film Aamhi Doghi
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Read books and track them on Goodreads (3K+). Podcaster at India Booked. Arming women with knowledge on personal finance. Marketer & Writer-at-large. read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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