CEO Blog 9: Do you consider yourself a Mentor?

15 Nov 2017

Do I understand Mentoring? To be accepted in the spirit of humility, altruism, and truthfulness without which it would never bear fruit to the purpose for which it has evolved. Some dismiss it to be irrelevant, inconsequential and approach it with a closed mind; but those who pursue it with reverence know its profound value.

 

Is mentoring all about coaching an individual?

Isn’t mentoring about advising and guiding a lesser one?

Is mentoring about enabling others to discover their true potential?

What makes a good mentor/mentee?

 

Mentoring social entrepreneur is like exploring the mind of a rebel, breaking barriers and give patient listening to someone who is angry with the way the world is shaping out to be. The situations that YOU and I deem as “that’s how it is / this will never change” – are what they envision wanting to change forever. They challenge the status quo, fight inequality and inequity in a way, business as usual & the state can never solve.

The value of mentoring to such individuals is a two-way process, both to the mentor and to the mentee.

Mentors do not put solutions on the table but share their point of view. It is difficult to think about mentoring without someone giving advice or providing a solution. But this is exactly what distinguishes mentoring from all other forms of coaching and supporting an individual.

Mentoring is a strong pillar of support for the endeavors of any entrepreneur, which gives them the confidence to take action with all their might – without turning back.

I consider, mentoring as the transformational process for the mentor as much it is for the mentee.  I recall my interaction with Kaustabh Basu, a mentor to one of our SSE Fellows last year. Kaustabh works at PwC India and mentored Akansha Singh whose enterprise circled around rural electrification & livelihood. He said: “This experience has taught me the virtues of patience and of the effort, it takes to be a good listener – traits that I assumed I was blessed with in abundance. But sitting at the crossroads of diving in and offering solutions to Akansha as against ‘holding a mirror’ to her and guiding her in arriving at the solution herself, I discovered these traits are often underrated in a world obsessed with quick-fix answers.”

Mentors indeed see themselves in the mirror while they hold it to the mentee which becomes an important reminder for them when they sit down to evaluate their mentoring role.

The fears of a mentee come from various sources and circumstances; it could be inhibitions or even walls created around oneself and by oneself. Ajay Etikala, one of the fellows from last year’s graduating batch describes his experience about being mentored as: “I was apprehensive to reach out to my mentor because of his designation and position at PwC, his busy schedule etc., but my mentor was very supportive and forthcoming throughout our mentor/mentee relationship. He created a comfortable space, it was like talking to family. He not only guided me but moreover helped me to think things through by asking me the right questions.”

Initially, both mentor and mentee are on the journey of an unknown path. They come together to evolve a relationship in which mere ‘Give and Take’ is not at its core. The distance traveled together and towards each other is the key to a timeless relationship. My interactions with people reaching out for mentoring support has made me realize that they are looking more for a patient listener; someone they can reach out to – someone who is a sounding board and brings wisdom that would otherwise take years to form.

An experience of one more mentor from PwC, Swati Agarwal offers several insights where she said: “My conversations with  Anirudh Gaurang (mentee) have been wide ranging – from his enterprise to his family, to my family (who he met during our first interaction), to my work, to India… it surely helps to talk, it helps you vent out pent-up emotions, clears your head and helps you structure your thoughts. I also realized that social entrepreneurs have lean teams and lean support systems. Very often than not sustenance of the enterprise is at stake due to financial challenges.”

Talking and speaking one’s own mind is crucial. One’s perspective on different beliefs and ideologies in life, be it society, culture, religion, politics, are a great influence on one’s personality and daily conduct. Getting insight into a person’s thought processes is a great start for a mentoring relationship.

In my own experience, mentoring has best worked in an informal, open style of engagement where agendas and deliverables are not in question. However, the focus and direction of the conversation are important and when one digresses too much the mentor steps in and brings the discussion back on the track. This is the skill-set that distinguishes a mentor and makes it encouraging for the mentee to find his/her space in the relationship.

In recent years, entrepreneurship has received greater momentum. In fact, first-generation entrepreneurs are able to build successful businesses. Traditionally, family businesses offered internal ecosystems of mentoring & support from one generation to the other whereas for the start-ups today this has become an important need and valuable part of entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Mentors operate from the level of awareness that their mentee, an entrepreneur is a highly enterprising individual working to translate ‘what is possible’ into a reality. And this confidence exhibited by mentors is a great enabler for the mentee to move ahead. Social entrepreneurs whether having the ‘know-how’ of the business or not; they have an amazing capability and ‘know-why’, ‘know-who’ and ‘know-where’ of the social business. They network and mobilize resources required for their enterprise, and always determined in the face of adversity.

I encourage more people to come forward and volunteer to mentor courageous and daring social entrepreneurs, who can gain immensely from your experience. HAPPY MENTORING!