In my last article I spoke about “Spotting the Right Mentor” as a core responsibility of a mentee. While this is very important to kick start the mentor-mentee relationship on the right note, there is a lot more that a mentee has to do to be efficient and make the engagement mutually enriching. As we start looking at what it takes to being an efficient mentee I will tell you a short relevant story.
Two prospective disciples once went to a sage, asking to become his students. The sage posed a quick test to them. He wanted each of them to fill a room with an item of their choice leaving enough space for just the two of them to enter. The first person piled up cotton in the room without much difficulty and as instructed left enough space for the sage and himself. The second placed a lit candle in the centre of the room filling the entire space with light. The sage, who looked at both the solutions, picked the second person as his disciple, recognizing his openness to embrace the sage’s teachings, for after all his test was to see how open the individuals’ minds were. The candle was a reflection of the second person’s mind, giving enough room for the sage to impart his teachings. Drawing inferences from this story to our current discussion, the understanding and acceptance of the following points go a long way in making an efficient mentee:
- A mentee should have the ability to learn and take in feedback – An important trait is the ability to listen and get feedback, positive or constructively negative. The individual should come in with a balanced state of mind. In objectively acting upon feedback, he keeps the learning curve soaring high.
- A mentor-mentee relationship is like a contact sport – while the mentor needs to be accountable for their work outcomes, the mentee’s stakes are even higher. The mentee has a much better contextual understanding of the work they have taken up, more than anyone else. In the best interest of both people involved, the mentee has to work towards making this a two way collaborative effort, taking ownership for the task set at hand.
- Importance of ongoing trust, application and measurement – to understand this, let’s take a common classroom scenario. A teacher delivers the same lecture to an entire class of students – however, the levels of reception, application and outcomes are very diverse across the student base. The scenario is no different in a mentee learning from a mentor. The most successful outcomes are reaped when the mentee has complete trust in the mentor, is able to logically apply his guidance in addressing his needs and sets his own key result areas (KRAs) to calibrate his outcomes. Such self-administered discipline will also help the duo achieve equilibrium early into their engagement.
- Mentoring offers a guidance not a prescription or a cure – this goes back to our discussion in the first story. A true mentor offers guidance to help the mentee understand his problems holistically. He helps the mentee draw his own inferences, without getting lost in a deluge of symptoms. However, the mentee has to be savvy to accept that mentors are not flawless. They may be opinionated, biased by their past successes and failures, all of which may have a strong influence on the guidance they provide. Understanding such premises is critical for the mentee to look beyond the current set of problems at hand, and apply the learnings into future scenarios as well.
- Delivering value back to the mentor – Mentoring is not just about collaboratively solving the mentee’s problems. The mentee can work beyond such a defined scope to add value in the mentor’s sphere of operations too. He can challenge the mentor in solving the latter’s problems. One may not understand the significance of such contributions at the get go – but in the long run, it provides a much richer and more practical learning ground for both individuals, summing up 1 and 1 as 3 instead of 2.
In summary, a mentor-mentee relationship is between two individuals – often between, one who has the experience and has made it big, and another who is trying to making it big. The conversations between them are not just collaborative, but are also equally charged up and opinionated. An efficient mentee is one who is able to accept the above to make the best of this learning experience. In turn an efficient mentor is one who understands all of these points too in grooming the mentee for he himself would have been in these shoes in the past.