Mentoring: A win-win relationship

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Historically, the word Mentor originates from Greece. Ulysses had little time to groom & develop his son Telemachus. Busy with his kingly duties, and waging war on neighbours for his conquests, Ulysses asked his friend Mentor to coach, counsel and guide Telemachus during his growing years. Today’s process of Mentoring was once a proper noun and the name of the first recorded practitioner. Plutarch caught the essence,  “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” Telemachus was a king in the making. So Mentor was charged with making Telemachus an independent thinker and doer, albeit guided and supported by the wisdom of the experienced warrior, Mentor.

Today also the Mentor is supposed to provoke and encourage, guide and support, empower and enable as the Mentee charts his/her own course. In the end, if the Mentee/Protege does not become capable and independent, the Mentoring relationship has failed!  Benjamin Disraeli guides us thus, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” So true…it is about teaching a man to fish so that he becomes independent and self sufficient. Be a signpost to show the right path, but let the protege walk on his own. A lot of people, yours truly included, have gone further than they thought they could, because someone else thought they could!!

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In that respect my father was the greatest mentor we siblings ever had. Even when we were unsure of ourselves, he would always sound the bugle of confidence. Around him, “I can’t do it” was unacceptable. His approach was…try it out. Till you attempt it, never say you cannot do it. And if you fail in your attempt, learn from the failure. Then try again. Success will always be yours. When I look back on my school and college education, on the diverse companies I worked in, & the jobs I handled, I indeed had to struggle often to keep my nose out of the water. But Baba? he was always sure I would emerge successful. And his confidence was so infectious that a pure play Humanities student made it to IIM Calcutta and had a very successful career whose zenith was recognition at the hands of Abdul Kalam for innovative HR practices; and successfully shouldering an Asia Pacific responsibility for Johnson & Johnson.

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At IIM Calcutta, an Arts students having to understand  and master the quantitative methods and math based teaching, I was at the lowest possible ebb:  looking at all the IITians and smart people around me. But my Provost Dr Zahid Gangjee enabled me to see hope within myself. His deft mentoring, restored my aspirations and defined for me,  a new trajectory.  At the very start of my career, my experience in a highly entrepreneurial HCL, working closely with Prof. George Koreth  was another high. “I am not a teacher. I am an awakener” thundered George who single handedly mentored the 7 DCM Data Products break-away engineers to form HCL, and make it grow into the main catalyst for the fledgling data processing industry in the 70s/80s. Under George’s tutelage, HCL HR was the brain to pick, the sounding board to bounce your ideas, question your strategies and iron out the glitches. We did it well and can take some credit for HCL becoming the power-horse of the IT boom in India. Mentoring Works!!! and how!!

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PW Khandekar, Shrinivas Pandit, my most favorite Arun Bhende (all in Siemens); Siddharth Lalbhai, Dr Venkateshwarlu,  CD Patel & Sanat Mehta (in Atul) ….looking back I wonder what I did to deserve so many brilliant minds helping and supporting me,  as I was finding my way. Naren Ambwani, Pradip Shroff, Dr Ajit Dangi, Rajesh Dalal (in J&J) all contributed significantly to making me what I became. All these mentors truly epitomize what Mary Angelou had written, “In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know and care about the person you’re sharing with.” Their caring was the placenta within which this embryo survived and flowered.

Somewhere in the late 90s in Atul, & Siemens, & JnJ, and later General Motors, I suddenly awoke to the design of the universe. I was being given all this, so that I could give back in return, in full measure. Time came when suddenly I found the tables turning! Even as I was learning & growing, I found Mentoring being thrust on me. Suddenly I saw people expecting guidance and support from me. Now, I had to be the brain that others could pick, the ear they could talk to, a shoulder they could lean on ….and the most difficult thing….expected me to nudge them in the right direction. “Holy Smokes!!” I exclaimed, ” I am stupid guy! Don’t rely on me. I am a fool. I am still learning. I cannot claim any expertise. You are making a mistake”

Still the noise outside the door did not subside, the crowd did not move away. Slowly I understood this is the way of the universe!  Life comes a full circle. And I cannot step away from the treadmill. My task in life now is to call out as I see it, and help others make their decisions, help them stand and be counted, help them become independent, and as a good Mentor….push them in the right direction.  Success is when you have reached your goal, but Real Success is how many others you have helped along the way.

Make impact

It is unfortunate that in Corporate India today, we have so few companies which have successful Mentoring programmes as a part of their Talent Management suite. Many understand the power of Mentoring and how it can benefit upcoming talent. Many have even started Mentoring programmes with much fanfare and aplomb. But the lack of clarity on the mechanics of Mentoring, and the inability to set the right expectations for both the Mentors and the Mentees/Proteges, have left many dead bodies, and programs,  along the path!!

Of course the times have changed and so have the talent. Today’s new gen millennials who account for nearly 50% of the employees, do they still view mentors as the way we viewed them? Probably not. Our generation viewed mentoring as support to advance careers, while today’s talent need mentors to help them meet urgent learning needs or new skills. Moreover, with virtual learning the new gen doesn’t find face to face communication to be mandatory, in contrast to the good old mentor mentee relationship. Finally, earlier employees had one mentor. But now employees look for diverse connections & wider learning avenues. So, will one mentor be able to provide it all??? These are challenges for the corporates, but my request to Talent Management gurus….do not throw the baby with the bath water. Mentoring is a win win relationship.

2 way street

I have lived my life to be a learner and a mentor. I know I have to be mentored -constantly!! Everything in the world has been passed down. Every piece of knowledge is something that has been shared by someone else. If you understand it as I do, mentoring becomes your true legacy. It is the greatest inheritance you can give to others. As John Wooden says,” It is why you get up every day-to teach and be taught.”

To end, I will say our karmabhoomi is Here & Now. We must make progress today and develop talent for our requirements today! I am inspired on this by  Omar Khayyam,               ” Men talk of heaven, – there is no heaven but here;
Men talk of hell, – there is no hell but here;
Men of hereafters talk and future lives, –
O love, there is no other life – but here.” 

Live to Learn & Learn to Live; Mentor and Be Mentored: vikas

Albert-Schweitzer

28 Replies to “Mentoring: A win-win relationship”

  1. Hi VS,

    i would consider this piece as one of your BEST so far!

    superb messaging ..and the way you have woven it with your life journey makes it so real..and inspiring!

    “One never ceases to learn” is an overused expression and has become a cliche. You have , however ,given a new meaning to its underlying significance.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts ..with excellent illustrations ..as always

    Like

  2. The poem shared in the earlier comment has been in my mailbox over 12-15 years now… don’t even remember where I came across it the first time… but have always cherished it ever since.

    You Sir, somehow have this uncanny knack of unearthing thoughts/ ideas so close to my heart (pardon the cliche)… 🙏🏼 🙏🏼 🙏🏼

    Sincerely appreciate your constant efforts in giving back the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the years…
    … as well as inspiring so many minds all around you, always…

    You’ve always been my big brother, and I love you for that…
    … but first and foremost, you’ve been a great mentor to me and so many others, and I deeply respect you for that… 🙏🏼 🙏🏼 🙏🏼

    Dil se… 💕💕💕

    Like

    1. Dear not so little, yet so dear to me, brother
      I though you wrote this to me on WA and so I replied to you: Ab bacche ko rulayega kya?
      Now I see you have also published your approbation here in public space
      What do I say now?

      Just as I was fortunate and privileged to get a George Koreth and Arun Bhende in my life
      I think I was equally privileged to get a MAB and an Ameya Mundhekar in my life
      Truly you ALL have helped me grow and gave me enough grist for the challenges on the road ahead that shaped and made me
      To illustrate with an example….I became head of HR at the age of 31 ( and have stagnated at that level till now, he he )
      But I was never daunted by the task as I was not alone.
      Atul Union leaders taught me by their challenges
      Atul line leaders taught me with their support and acceptance
      My family taught me by their demands
      and my HR Team ….they taught me by walking the miles with and along me
      Really as a boss, I have never had to lead
      My teams led me and I had only to follow

      Same way my family….
      all my uncles and aunts, my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, my wife and my daughter,
      everyone taught me the way to live
      vicariously I experienced life through each one of them
      and I have learnt

      Elsewhere I have said it, and I say it again with all humility and respect,
      my life was enriched by so many of you
      that I can take no credit for what I am become
      I am YOU
      you all
      Thanks for being in my life

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A very insightful take on mentoring. I personally believe that there are natural mentors and some over the course of their life learn it…. However the onus of successful mentoring lies slightly more on the mentee…. Caring, listening and respect has to be mutual….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vishal Thanks for your comment. Fully agree that Mentoring….like all successful relationships….has to be a two way street. According to me the main challenge is in setting the right expectations….from both sides. When that happens, Mentoring benefits all around

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Why Be A Mentor?

    An old man going a lone highway,
    Came at the evening cold and gray,
    To a chasm vast and deep and wide,
    Through which was flowing a swollen tide.

    The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
    That swollen stream held no fears for him,
    But he paused when safe on the other side
    And built a bridge to span the tide.

    “Old man”, said a fellow pilgrim near,
    “You are wasting your strength in building here.
    Your journey will end with the ending day.
    You never again must pass this way.

    You’ve crossed the chasm deep and wide,
    Why build you the bridge at the even tide?”
    The builder lifted his old gray head,
    “Good friend, in the path I have come…” he said,

    “There followeth after me today,
    A youth whose feet must pass this way.
    This swollen stream which was naught to me,
    To that fair haired youth may a pitfall be.

    He too must cross in the twilight dim.
    Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”

    Like

    1. Ameya
      this one is truly beautiful
      I read the poem again and again
      and realised the simplicity of it’s struth is the charm in the words and the imagery
      It fits this topic of Mentoring to the T
      One cannot imagine a better and more direct way of telling what a traveller feels when he takes effort and does something for fellow travellers who will traverse the same path later and after him
      There is always an innate desire to leave the world a better place than we found it, in the hearts of each one of us
      Possibly that is why philosophy as a branch of knowledge came about
      to shine a light on the street where I struggled
      That is why Socrates taught Plato and Plato taught Aristotle and Aristotle shed light on the paths of many
      It is great to participate in this tradition of mutual help and support.

      thanks for bringing this lovely poem to the celebration, the party of ….MOVING ON

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You have spoken about the varied facets of mentorship so well. The origin of the word is also interesting. This, however, I thought was by far the best metaphor to describe mentorship.
    “Their caring was the placenta within which this embryo survived and flowered.” Amazing read.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My cousin brother Ameya is an amazing writer. Earlier people enjoyed his comments more than my blogs. I hope the golden days are coming again. He was silent for some time, but seems to have awoken. Zahe Naseeb

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That he is your brother explains it all…

        In Gujarati we have a saying ” Mor na eenda ne chitarva na pade” ….. One does not need to paint a peacock egg to make the birds plumage colorful.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey my dearest critic, many thanks for your comment.
      You are from the new gen where I cannot claim to be your mentor, but what you think of the blog matters a lot to me
      so many many thanks for your endorsement
      Ye sikka ab aur chalega….
      Foer me the most fav line is…a lot of people, including yours truly, have gone further than they thought they could, because someone else thought they could!!
      Ghoom Gham ke Arun Bhende bahut yaad aate hai
      He proposed to Siemens Management to make me Personnel Director when I was in late 20s!!!
      and said he who was 50 plus would gladly report to me
      This is what true mentors are made of
      I am what I am because of the blessings of a lot of people
      Arun of course leading the pack
      It is their faith which pushed me “onward and beyond”
      God Bless their souls
      warna hum to kuch bhi nahin
      Ek Arts student who lost his way many times
      But there were signposts and people who shaped and guided
      May their tribe increase
      Summa Aaameen

      Like

  6. Dear Vikasji,

    So well elucidated, the other wise, confused or often misinterpretted concept of Menturng.

    Quite often we see some Mentors trying to make the Mentee successful by insisting upon them to repeat the same behaviours that made the Mentor a successful leader in his or her life.

    This is so incorrect and unfair to the Mentee.

    In this context I liked the thoughts shared by Mr Spielberg, on the delicate balance of mentoring.

    I enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Like

    1. Devdutt
      many many thanks for your good words
      They mean a lot to me

      I fully agree that Mentors must understand that they should never try and create clones….the Mentees are different and need to be respected as such. Each one of us must find our own path, and in that the Mentor can plat the role of a sign post or a speedbreaker…the car must be driven by the mentee himself. That is why there is a beautiful Zen saying..
      If you meet the Buddha on the road, KILL HIM!!!
      Ekala Chalo re, as Rabindranath Thakur said long ago

      Like

  7. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog on mentoring. As you mentioned most corporates start a mentoring program with much fanfare but soon forget about it. Mentoring works if both mentor and mentee are serious about it. Very often the mentee doesn’t even think that he/ she needs mentoring.
    On the other hand, while most of us did not have formal mentors, we had a good number of examples whom we could emulate and in turn pass on this learning to our juniors more informally in the normal course of work. This I found to be more effective and satisfying.
    And yes, in the process we too learn so much from those we mentor, that it makes the process a rewarding and enriching one.

    Like

    1. Hey KDN thanks a lot for your comments and your appreciations
      yes formal mentoring often runs into rough weather, but which one of us can deny the influences and impact of all great leaders we have seen around and had the privilege to work with
      The formal process often falters on the rocks of wrong expectations from the process….from the mentee as well as the mentor
      Rather than see it as opportunities and inputs for growth, people tend to let their other agendas get in the way
      To that extent informal mentoring and watching and learning from other successful leaders is easier and cleaner model for growth
      I used to often tell everyone who complimented my success….pl do not give me any credit what so ever…..I had 2 role models in front of me….faced with a challenge I had to only ask what would “Bhende” do in this situation and do exactly that. And think what would “P” do and NOT do that. Between these 2 modes, I was guaranteed success.
      So absolutely no credit to this monkey who had clear Green and Red lights guiding him all along.

      Like

  8. Sir ,
    Very motivating blog ..your mentorship has helped me enormously shaping up may career.I am sharing this blog to my coleagues here at Kalpataru ..thanks

    Like

    1. MAB
      thanks for sharing the credit
      But sona khara hoga to kahin bhi ubhar aayega
      It was great working with a person like you
      and in real reverse mentoring fashion, you too taught me a lot
      I will always treasure that relationship
      all the best always

      Like

  9. Vikas
    Kudos… always look forward to reading your blogs.

    Any professional would like to leave a lasting legacy which adds meaning & impetus to his vision.

    While in Cibatul I was blessed to have an excellent team which continued to determine the company’s success long after I had joined GE.

    Usually a mentor is expected to be older than the mentee.

    The legend known by the name Jack Welch turned this rule around.

    All who were older than 45 needed to find a mentor 10- 15 years younger.

    He did believe in boundryless learning & knew the fountainhead of knowldge or wisdom had little to do with age.

    Must say , I really enjoyed this experience which amongst other gains made me think from a younger , more ambitious & sucessful perspective.

    Like

    1. Nikhil bhai, was going seriatim from the top
      just replied to baraiya and then I see your comment
      Yes reverse mentoring is indeed a powerful learning experience and is used even by Adi Godrej and his senior team
      Jack Welch was not named the Manager of the Century by Time for nothing
      his focus on people management and talent development is legend
      Finally meritocracy is what will ensure companies will rise to the challenges of the future
      and how can we deny that the Next Gen can give us a run for our money
      It is always a pleasure to deal with different perspectives and that adds to one’s growth

      The link to legacy implicit in Mentoring was brought home heavily to me when I worked with NDDB and came across the legacy of Dr Kurien in shaping that organization even decades after him
      That is the best thing we can leave behind

      Thanks for your reading and commenting
      this will help me stay on the path
      Keep engaging, keep teaching

      Like

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