The Tao of Mentorship

7 Lessons I Learnt As A Mentor and As a Mentee

There is an old corporate adage- ‘nobody is irreplaceable’. Well, I dispute that. If your work is your worship and you occupy a place in people’s hearts, you are truly irreplaceable. So, to every mentee I say, occupy and maintain a place in people’s hearts.

Introduction

An email from Human Resources (HR) today reminded me of the incredible value of mentors and provoked me to write about my experience both as a mentor and as a mentee.

I have been fortunate enough to find formal and informal mentors that have inspired, coached and guided me. I have also learnt from my mentees just as I hope they learnt from me.

This is my chance to share a few personal lessons learnt.

What this Article is and What it is Not

First, this article is not ‘preaching’ and these principles can most certainly not be labeled ‘industry best practices’.

Second, this article is an attempt at sharing actual and personal experiences as a Mentor.

Third, this is not a collection of touchy-feely and mushy advice but rather lessons learnt in the University of Hard Knocks.

Lastly, by no means do I claim to be an expert mentor or for that matter an expert Mentee. Also, I acknowledge that there is extensive and veritable research around mentorship whereas my tenets are centered around my experience and reflect personal opinions

Therefore, my suggestions are tempered by honesty & humility but motivated by a desire to share my limited experience in the hope that it adds value to at least one mentor-mentee relationship.

A Historical Perspective

The word ‘Mentor’ refers to a character in Homers Odyssey. When Odysseus was busy fighting the Trojan war, he enlisted Mentor to guide his son Telemachus. Mentor was the son of Alcimus who in turn was a companion to Achilles. Because Mentor was a rather old man, the goddess Athena took his form to guide young Telemachus.

Under Hinduism, the ultimate liberation, contentment, freedom in the form of moksha and inner perfection is considered achievable by two means: with the help of a Guru(a teacher and a mentor), and with evolution through the process of karma including rebirth in some schools of Hindu philosophy.

Personal Lessons

Although it is hard to summarize key lessons for there are many, I attempted to pick the ones that have been common throughout my work life:

1. Credibility is Hard to Build but Easy to Destroy

Ethics and integrity can never be compromised. Doing right by the client takes precedence over all else. Delegation is a function of trust and trust is a function of credibility. A strong character is the single most important quality.

2. Understand That You Don’t Have All The Answers

Mentorship is a two way street. At times, a mentor can also learn from his mentee. Also, if you don’t have answers, say so and attempt to find them and get back to the mentee to close the loop.

3. Lead By Example

Be the Change you want to see. If you don’t walk the talk, it’s almost a cinch your words will have no weight.

4. Cultivate Vision and Risk Taking

Vision is the ability to see what others (including at times your superiors) cannot see. Encourage mentees to never lose sight of the bigger picture. Focus on big data to reveal trends & patterns that others can not see.

Choose at least one assignment where the goal is to turn around a failing business or to salvage a situation considered hopeless. Adversity can be a great teacher.

5. Complacency is dangerous

A very famous Indian poem ‘Agnipath’ by Harivanshrai Bachchan reminds us not to seek shelter but rather seek to toil under the harshest suns

Do not seek shelter, seek the harsh sun. Never be satisfied with the status quo. Hunger to learn is the single biggest advantage any mentee can possess. Even if you are not the smartest person in the room, try to be the hungriest.

7. Always leave a place better than you found it

Don’t just do your job, think about doing right by your colleagues even though it is not called for. Give back to the community without expectation and encourage silent charity.

Concluding Remarks

Mentorship is an art that I practice frequently. As I learn more, I intend to share learnings along the way and love to learn from others.

Finally, don’t pursue perfection, pursue excellence. I am not saying that the pursuit of perfection is futile but what I am saying is that everyone should have just the right amount of wrong.

Additional Resources

These are some additional resources that I hope you find useful as you coach and learn from your mentee:

One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor — And Why You’ll Benefit from Being One

The Hands-Off Manager: How to Mentor People and Allow Them to Be Successful

Mentoring in Action: A Practical Guide for Managers

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