Mentors and Mentees

A teacher /or and a student / mentor begin their journey as strangers. But the lessons learnt out of this relationship go beyond just the level of the textbook or business manual, for both involved. After all, learning is a two way process. As we celebrate Teacher’s Day on September 5th, let’s meet a few India Inc, mentors / mentees as they share their learnings derived out of their experience of donning both hats at some point of time in their careers.

Mr.X’s favorite mentors were E A K Faizullabhoy and R K Krishnamurthi; they were his first employers as well. As a mentee, X learnt from that organizations and teams are built on faith and trust. A true balance of trust, human understanding and symbiotic working between different hierarchies in a team is the fundamental premise for successful teams. In one instance, where X had taken a decision to advise a client without their authorization, which turned out to, be a wrong one, they professionally handled the wrong advise, corrected the damage done and ensured that they trained X on similar factual situations. More importantly, they took time out to equip X for similar situations in the future, while discussing the reasons and facts which were wrongly applied by X. X always believed the greatest virtue of a mentor is not only to be superior in knowledge, but also display patience to enable learning and wisdom.

X is now presently mentoring one person in his organization with a view to create a successful career on one hand and to sow the seeds of mentoring on the other. The greatest of the challenges in mentoring is the resistance to change and willingness to unlearn certain preconceived positions of understanding and decision making. Also X is not sure how and when the mentor takes over from being a mere superior in terms of administrative hierarchy.

Now take the case of Y, his mentor was Naren M P executive director of Vaspar Concepts Pvt Ltd. Naren always kept saying that people feel like they have too much to do and not enough time and lack of time is blamed for everything from not getting enough exercise, unachieved goals, bad relationships and so on. Through him, Y learnt ways to compartmentalize time and work and even honed the art of multi tasking.

As a mentor, Y is mentoring three people. In the process of mentoring, Y developed an ability to absorb their experiences which they have acquired through their course of life. Y learnt that every person’s problem is a case study by itself, through them you can enrich your learning.

Now take the case of Z and his mentor was his boss, Kiran Bali. When Z was with GE during 2001-04 it was the time Z transformed his career from technology to leadership. Z’s mentor demonstrated good mentoring skills in shaping me up as a good leader and to see the clear difference in technical leadership. Mentor taught me ways to handle people, give feedback, maintain work life balance in a very demanding job that we are in. To narrate an incident, Z was aggressive by nature and demanded the deadlines from teammates when Z started his career as a project lead. One of the incidents triggered conflict between Z’s colleague and Z, and as Z was the lead, Z stressed the need and asked him to stretch instead of motivating him to do so. Z’s teammate completed the job on time as required but he escalated the issue to Z’s boss. That’s where he stepped in and helped Z learn ways to handle high pressure situations, while still respecting people.

Z is mentoring five people in his current job. Understanding their view is sometimes difficult for which Z needs to step into their shoes to understand the problem before guiding them to the right pointers. Also, mentors gain from a mentee’s experience. Hence, look out for opportunities for improvement on both sides, both mentee and mentor.

M’s best mentor has been his current boss SJ – COO. A few learning sessions M derived from her are: (1) once performance levels of people are established, don’t delay telling people where they stand. In case performance isn’t meeting expectations, they may need you to ensure they know that (2) establish a relationship with people beyond what they do at work and remember the small things about them and (3) the devil is in the detail.

At the moment, M directly would be mentoring four people. M thinks the strongest lesson he has learnt is that you have to let people go and make their own mistakes. Don’t give solutions as much as ask questions that help them to take the decision for themselves.