The Power Of Mentoring

The key to being a good mentor is to help people become more of who they already are — not to make them more like you. — Suze Orman

Mentoring is a special relationship between two people and is built over a period of time. It is filled with trust and respect, is meant to motivate and nurture and is incredibly satisfying if done right.

They say behind every powerful man is a woman. That surely maybe true but I would like to rephrase that to say that behind every successful leader is a mentor.

As I reflect on my own leadership journey in corporate India in the aviation sector, I am reminded of the many mentors with whom I had the privilege of working. Some of these mentors were official and many were self-appointed or selected by me.

When I was a young management trainee, I had a mentor explain to me the biggest responsibility of a manager is that of “managing” people. This was such good advice which helped define my leadership style where I invested in people and helped them achieve their potential. From my observations, many of my colleagues who didn't necessarily have the benefit of the advice were so insecure and were constantly threatened by smart subordinates.

Later in life, when I was making a career switch from the corporate to the development sector, another mentor helped me gather the courage to decide on the final course. I remember he told me, “You have to make a decision with Safecity, you have to do it now or else you will miss the bus.” 

This nudge was necessary for me to stop vacillating and take the plunge into social entrepreneurship which has been the most fulfilling and satisfying thing I have ever done.

Another mentor helped me think through my business decisions and address key issues like company ownership and ways to scale the organisation. She also gave me great advice on networking and paying it forward, which I constantly refer to - “Give, give, give with no expectations of getting back and you will be surprised at how much you receive”.

As you can see, these conversations with mentors have helped me through some of the important periods of my life, whether it was pivoting from one role to another or switching careers.

Research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic, and professional situations. Through mentoring, a young person is connected to an establish leader for personal growth and development, and social and economic opportunity. Yet one in three young people will grow up without this critical asset.

In my current role, as a gender activist and woman thought leader, I take mentorship seriously and invest in many young women and men. It is critical for me that we create a pipeline of talented women and provide them with role models, reference points and a support system to enable them in their own leadership journey and quest to achieve their potential.

Through an annual Global Mentoring Walk that my organization Safecity hosts in Mumbai, we match senior women with young women. They connect with each other over a walk around The International Women’s Day and discuss common challenges and possible solutions. The mentors provide guidance to the younger women and share strategies to deal with difficult topics including work life balance. They are also generous with opening up their networks and continue to work with the mentees over a one year period. The results have been very encouraging with both groups claiming to have learned from each other. One young woman who aspired to be a writer was matched with noted author Kiran Manral and went on to publish a book at the age of 19! Several got a better jobs and many felt comfort in the fact that they had a larger pool of women to reach out to when in difficulty.

A mentoring relationship helps in many ways:

  1. Provides fresh perspective - Having someone look at your current situation with a new lens helps generates innovative ideas. A mentor can give you insights as they have broader experience on issues and in business. For example, when I have to make a difficult decision, I turn to my mentors for advice.
  2. Builds confidence - A mentor can boost your confidence and validate your ideas. Knowing that someone is there to critically evaluate your work whilst rooting for your success is hugely motivating. A friend of mine was looking to return to work after a career break to look after her children. She appointed me as her mentor and I worked with her to build her self confidence about being able to do the job, catching up with technological changes and giving her material to read so that she was prepared for the job interview.
  3. Opens up a network - Mentors are usually established leaders in their field. They come with their networks and are able to open up doors, make introductions and find contacts that can help. Several of my mentees regularly ask me for recommendation letters and introductions to important people in my network.
  4. Addresses blind spots - As a mentor is invested in your success, they will point out things that you might be missing out on or completely unaware of. One of my mentors insisted that I have an honest conversation with my co-founders to address the management structure and the support required for a fast growing organisation. Had it not been for her, I would have left it till quite late and the organisation would have been in deep trouble.
  5. Motivates and nudges you forward - Mentors truly want you to succeed. Often their criticisms are meant for you to push your boundaries as they see your potential. Without my mentors, I would never have been able to achieve the many successes I have had along the way.

Mentors can be anyone who you think can add value to your life with their experience and perspectives. You can approach someone and request to be mentored or informally select one or through your workplace sign up for a mentoring program.

Mentoring is a special relationship between two people and is built over a period of time. It is filled with trust and respect, is meant to motivate and nurture and is incredibly satisfying if done right. Therefore, if we want a quality workforce, every leader must invest in mentoring younger people and pay it forward in creating a talent pipeline.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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