Learning from colleagues with different experiences has become essential.
It does not matter what line of work you are in, at what stage you are in your career, how many failures you have seen or how successful ventures you have completed—we all need someone to guide us ahead in our journey, someone who understands our potential and has guts to shake us into realising it. I am referring to mentoring. A mentor is someone who sees you as you are. A mentor is someone in whose presence, you can be yourself without any pretence or mask. The mentoring concept is as old as human race. Almost everyone at some stage or other in life looks up to a coach for guidance. It is a wrong notion that one single person can mentor you throughout life; at each stage, we need different mentors to guide us. We can see many instances in our history where a mentor helps his/her protégé realise and attain his/her full potential. Chanakya was instrumental in the rise of Chandragupta Maurya as emperor and was chief adviser to Chandragupta and his son, Bindusara. It is mentioned in some records that Chanakya was ten years older to Chandragupta.
It seems Apple co-founder, the late Steve Jobs, was a mentor to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. The two developed a relationship in the early days of Facebook, and often met to discuss the best business strategies and management practices for the company. When Jobs passed away in 2011, Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook page, “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you.”
PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi looks for mentors in all aspects of her life. She says, “If I hadn’t had mentors, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m a product of great mentoring, great coaching… Coaches or mentors are very important.” She credits the mentoring she received from people around her for helping her break the glass ceiling in the business world.
The corporate world requires mentoring for helping employees to progress further in their chosen careers. It is a partnership between two people, the mentor and the protégé. Usually, the two people work in a similar field or share similar experiences. It is a useful relationship based upon mutual trust, respect and understanding each other.
Deloitte, the accounting giant, has constantly practised mentoring. Good and honest mentoring ensures that the leadership pipeline is never vacant. The name of the programme, the Emerging Leaders Development Programme, does exactly what it is intended to do: develop future Deloitte leaders. Much of the strength of the programme lies in its focus and commitment. According to the Deloitte website, each programme participant is assigned a partner, principal, or director-sponsor who commits to at least two years to help their protégés drive their own careers by helping them understand how to steer their organisation. This is one of the ways how Deloitte boosts retention of employees and shows that the firm is committed to helping its employees achieve their goals and objectives in professional lives. Great organisations help people reach the zenith in their profession.
Intel takes a slightly different approach to many other Fortune 500 companies. Rather than focus on hierarchy (connecting junior employees with senior employees), Intel focuses on specific knowledge transfer and domain skills that are in demand in present times. This philosophy is practised by the fact that everyone has something to learn—and everyone has something to teach. Intel’s mentoring programme is less formal and more entrenched in the culture, resulting in more organic connections. The strength of Intel’s mentoring programme lies in its momentum; rather than a coordinator managing and overseeing the programme like a hawk, employees take much of the process into their hands and take charge of their own learning.
In today’s era, mentoring isn’t just a one-way flow of knowledge from the old to the young. In a globalised world, connecting with people of different ages, genders, qualifications and experience with diverse points of view has become essential. Multigenerational workplaces are the norm. In fact, progressive and large companies have started to run ‘reverse mentoring’ programmes which helps matching senior executives with millennials to exchange fresh perspectives and encounter new ways of thinking about work. Reverse mentoring refers to an initiative in which older executives are paired with and mentored by younger employees on topics such as technology, social media and current trends. In many organisations, it is observed that senior executives are out of touch with the times and could really benefit from reverse mentoring.
Another mistaken assumption many people make is that mentoring should be within the organisation. So long as a protégé (an employee) can benefit from the outsider perspective, outside mentoring is not a bad idea. It has been observed that people can learn more and add more insights when they interact at very different contexts. The people-skills that these relationships are based on surpass work cultures.
One more blunder people make is that they assume that female protégés would want to connect to female mentors in order to learn how best to navigate in male-dominated fields. But the fact is that women benefit from male mentors, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is sad that talented women usually don’t get the kind of individual career guidance and support in organisations. Men really have to step into shoes of a lady to understand her and train her; else, soon organisations will face talent shortage. Today, in the world of gender-equality, men and women have similar levels of ambitions.
By VidyaHattangadi, Management thinker and blogger, email@example.com