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Mentoring! If one were to do the equivalent of a keyword search for the number of pop-ups of this word in conversations, and if advertisers were to get into the fray, one could literally put one’s money where one’s mouth is!!

A lot of people, irrespective of level, have difficulty appreciating the role of a mentor, and finding one thereafter. Since career paths invariably come with vicissitudes, finding someone who has more years under his/her belt, and can help you maneuver tight situations, is highly valuable. During a talk with some young leaders at a career advice forum, I shared the following: 

  • Zero in on potential mentors: Typically, it is good to start with someone you know. It is very difficult to believe that your connections are so poor that there isn’t even a single far-flung connection who can be of value to you.
  • Follow their advice: It is very important to recalibrate your approach from a “know-it-all” approach to a “learn-it-all” approach. There is no point in embarking on this journey if you do not heed their advice, and more importantly, act on it!
  • Persist: A lot of people expect every session to be content-rich, with pearls of wisdom popping out by the minute. It takes time for a relationship to yield results. Persistent hacking away helps both arrive at the sweet spot or the point of inflection when the results suddenly shoot up exponentially.
  • Move from generic to specific: When you start out, it is a good idea to be broad-based and open yourself to different approaches and ideas. However, as you proceed along the journey, sharpen the axe. The more specific you get, the more valuable the advice.

An example I frequently share is that of vacation planning. When you meet a travel consultant, you may have a few ideas to start off with– a beach spot or a mountain for trekking etc. However, you must zero in on the destination after a few discussions. How else will you book tickets and take off? And it is when I am asked by a smart youngster that he or she is very clear about the destination from day one, that the value of mentoring really comes to the fore. It is at that point that I tell them that while we think we know it all based on the plethora of information available on the internet, and, therefore, do not need the help of a travel consultant, the real value of the consultant lies in sharing what is not available on public forums. How many of us can contact locals to find out the interesting places which are not listed in tourist sites?

A couple of very important points to keep in mind, based on empirical experience. Most people expect a mentoring relationship to be all milk & honey. Please realize that, like any other relationship, a mentoring relationship will have its ups and downs. At times, for reasons which are perfectly human, your mentor may not be able to give you the best advice. On occasions, you may find yourself challenged by your mentor to go above and beyond what you bring to the table currently. These are NOT the occasions to quit. Instead, rely on back-ups. For instance, you can speak to an alternate source if your mentor is not available. Similarly, if you must reinvent yourself, make a specific plan and work on your mentor’s advice.

Secondly, let the relationship evolve. In today’s age of instant gratification, I have seen many people make the mistake of expecting every interaction to yield instant results as if the mentor is an ATM who can spout cash the moment you insert the card inside. Human relationships need investment and nurturing – and, in this process, a crucial ingredient is time. The more you invest, the higher the return you reap. And since time is pretty much in short supply, you need to pivot your calendar to ensure you are available when your mentor has the time rather than plot it the other way around!!

Let me close by quoting John Crosby who said, “mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction”! All the best in your quest to find that somebody who will make you do what you can!"

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