“Coaches, mentors, gurus” – the roles people adorn themselves with, are often misunderstood in terms of the true meaning of what they entail, hence it continues to be a pet peeve of mine. I have been fortunate to be coached, rather groomed by a mentor who has made me who I am today. And I owe it back to him, to carry the baton and share the right message on mentoring, especially in an emerging country like India – a country where the potential is huge, but which often gets camouflaged by these so called “mentors or gurus” who do not take full responsibility of the important role they assume. In this post and a series of subsequent ones, I want to share entrepreneurial tips from my experience, which will hopefully ensure start-ups make the right management decisions, get the required guidance and more importantly do not close shop for the wrong reasons.
Spotting the right mentor is not all that difficult. However, this calls for due diligence that the mentee has to do, in identifying and aligning with such a person – such a due diligence checklist is what I will discuss in this post:
- What you hear is not what you always get. Watch out for tall claims a mentor makes about himself. I would significantly discount the genuineness of such a person, as I strongly believe in “empty vessels making more noise”. The true worth of a mentor is showcased by others speaking highly of him and his work, rather than self-proclamation.
- If a mentor is ready to work with you on the get go, don’t get excited. Rather get nervous. Think about what made him accept you right away, when he has not taken the time to understand who you are, your strengths, weaknesses, the chemistry between you two.
- A true mentor takes ownership of the task at hand, is willing to custom create a solution with you and more importantly even invest in you and your brand. He is ready to walk along with you and ask the right questions to empower you make your own decisions. For instance, to this day, one of the core questions my mentor continues to ask me is “what keeps you awake at night”. In the process, the mentor is not only enabling you solve your current problem, but is nurturing you holistically on several fronts – including, sharpening your thought process, articulation, courage to take informed decisions, leadership skill to step into his shoes for your mentees down the line. And for himself he is ready to be accountable in his engagement with you, making his deliverables measurable too. All of this commitment extends much beyond the “free gyan” that most are ready to give.
- The importance of logical questioning needs reiteration here. I draw the analogy of a good mentor to a doctor, who focuses not on the symptoms – but rather, understands the symptoms end to end through extensive questioning to empower you figure out your solutions. The whole process is often very magical to see where you started, how you analysed the situation at hand to arrive at what your course of action needs to be. And when you look back to see how you solved the problem with his guidance, you build a new found level of confidence in yourself and a strong trust in your mentor, both of which are very valuable in your road to entrepreneurship.
- Balance in the mentor’s experience is important. Learning from failures is more valuable than from successes – value mentors who have failed along the way, for it shows not their falls but their ability to rise from such falls, bringing a more realistic experience of what you may experience in your woods. Bill Gates calls “success a lousy teacher”. Our own Dr. APJ Kalam has faced not one but many failures. These men stand testimony to failures being a rich learning ground.
- Beware of sweet talkers. Every mentor has his own style of working with mentees. That said, you are better off getting critical feedback from your mentors who have the best interest in your growth. Be prepared for candid feedback and demanding task masters who may not be very encouraging upfront. Herein, you have an important role to differentiate constructive criticism from pure negativity and insecurity of the mentor himself. Think through what your mentor advises you on and be encouraged to ask questions that clarify and re-question the mentor’s thought process, if need be. There is no one sided flow of knowledge. This is a partnership game where collective thinking succeeds – keep your focus tactical on your regular discussions as well as strategic on the longer term results.
The bottom line is, mentorship is not a privilege that is conferred on an individual. It is a privilege to be earned by building a relationship of trust, commitment and accountability between two individuals who are determined to deliver a targeted goal, and positively impact the efficacy of operations they are involved in. It is an obligation to channel ideas and efforts into true innovation and when this happens in every mentorship opportunity, India will be well on its way to “thought provoking ideation”. As a country we have come a long way in establishing ourselves as thought leaders rather than mere executors – with “Make In India” kind of initiatives, we are at an important cross road to make this growth scalable and sustainable. To be able to get to the next level, both mentors and mentees have a huge responsibility to take on, of which the first is to “spot the right mentor” – this is an earnest call for you to exercise your due diligence in choosing the right mentor to benefit you, the start-up community and the nation at large.