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A Conversation on Mentoring with an Expert Mentor

A Conversation on Mentoring with an Expert Mentor

Mentoring is not just a duty; it’s a place for both, the mentor and mentee, to feel safe, reflect and feel empowered!

When you decide to take on, or accept a mentee, along with your role as a mentor comes responsibility, trust and commitment. It is a relationship premised on mutual give and take as any other relationship. Being a mentor is no easy task. It is a role that one must assume with full responsibility for, only after careful consideration.

Given the importance of mentoring in our careers, we thought of writing another blog, documenting the perspectives of a mentor herself. So we tracked down Pratibha Pathak, an associate coordinator for a not for profit organization called Pravah. An extremely energetic and compassionate being, Pratibha has been mentoring young adults on both personal and professional fronts for the past few years. Over an hour-long conversation, she spoke about a number of topics, such as, why mentoring is important, what are the qualities of a good mentor and her journey as a mentor.

There is a lot to take away from this conversation!

You have been mentoring for quite sometime now.  Each one of your mentees has a different story, a background and set of problems. How has the experience been for you as a mentor?

It’s been very different. I joined Pravah as a volunteer and had no idea about the concept of mentoring then. I had never been mentored by anyone previously either, so it was a lot more difficult for me. It was during my interactions with people in SMILE, an internship carried out by Pravah, that I finally learnt the basics of mentoring. Later, when I joined in an official capacity, I started my journey as a mentor. Even then when I had got a hang of some basic mentoring skills, I still didn’t know what I was doing. But one thing was certain, being a mentor meant I had a responsibility to perform.

Slowly I realized that mentoring is not about telling any of these kids what they ought to do and what not, it is a space that needs to be created for any mentee to be themselves. Yes, you’re right, each one of my mentees have a different story to tell and that made mentoring all the more challenging yet exciting enough for me to pursue.

Pravah has a unique system of mentoring everyone, from the founder to an intern. You have had mentors as well, how has that been for you? Do you think their mentoring skills have influenced yours in any way? If yes, then can you explain how?

Yes, I have had mentors both through formal and informal channels. Whenever I feel someone can help me, I reach out, doesn’t matter if he/she is assigned to me or not. I think the conversations I have had with my mentors have helped me grow and ease out the unnecessary pressure I have been forcing on myself. Also, I use to have a very narrow vision, I think that got widened in the process as well.  So yes, I would say my mentors have been an integral part of my journey.

As for answering the next part of your question, I think yes, my learnings from the conversations I have had with my mentors have impacted my mentoring skills. It has helped me grow and a lot of other people as well. My mentors have influenced me in the way I speak to my mentees. I’ll give you an example for this, I have always been a curious person, so you can understand I have this need to know everything. But when you become a mentor, you have to understand that a mentee doesn’t always want to share what’s on his/her mind all the time, so there is no point forcing it out. This was something I learnt from my mentors. Today, I have come to a realization that the essence of mentoring is to let things be until the mentee is comfortable and is ready to talk.

The process of mentoring is all about give and take. Do you think you have learnt some things from your mentees as much as they have learnt from you?

I think my biggest reflection as a mentor is how similar all of us are, and by us I mean both the mentors and the mentees. This I understood not just through my reflections, but also from my mentees. I think in terms of factual experiences, we are all different, but mentoring made me realize that emotionally we are all the same. I’ve learnt that it is important to constantly go back to who you are as a person when you try to help them. Mentees will never understand what you as a mentor are saying if you somewhere can’t connect yourself to their story and that is why it is important to reflect on yourself. This is what I have learnt.

Each mentor has a different way of approaching and mentoring someone. What is your mentoring process like?

First of all, I think having a mentoring “process” as such is a foolish thing. We have to understand that every single mentee, no matter what their age, is different. So simply put, there is no one process. Having said that, there are some common things that I do with all my mentees. First, it is important for me to let them be. I never question them, until I feel I have understood them to a certain level. The time my mentee is sharing is the time for me to just simply understand, and not prod around as that can completely backfire. Apart from that, the golden rule I believe that always works is investment and care.

There could be times when personal judgments or biases cloud your advice for a mentee, how do you tackle that?

Openness! That’s it. If you are not open to hearing the other person’s views then mentoring is futile. I think it is acceptable to disagree, but a mentor must respect the mentee during that process. It is very important to approach the conversation positively and understand what is it you want to take away from the conversation, as a mentor. Only if a mentor is open to the idea of the other person being different, can he/she break down biases, or at least keep them at bay.

Today, the culture of mentoring has become extremely popular within schools, colleges and work places. Why do you think is there such a rise?

I feel that life is much faster and we want to do so much. Given the little time we have and today’s technology being fast paced, we aren’t really slowing down and reflecting. We aren’t creating spaces for people to have a reflection of their own perceptions. Today, I think people miss that space, in fact they need it. A space they can call their own and who better to provide it than a mentor?

How important do you think mentoring is? Does it really impact lives for the better?

I strongly believe it to be a good practice. It adds value to all stages of a person’s life. We need mentors because they help us think outside the box. There are times when we need to look at our problems from a different lens, and mentors provide us with that. Apart from this, I think they can help boost our performance and build a network of contacts that we can use in the future.

But we need to understand that mentoring is a two-way process, it’s about giving and taking energy, and if it’s not helping either the mentor or the mentee, then perhaps mentoring is not a good option. There can be cases where a mentee hasn’t come in for a conversation with an open mind or the mentor is not in a frame of mind to listen. So mentoring only works if both are on the same page.

What do you think are some of the skills a mentor must have and what must he or she refrain from doing?

I can’t generalize for all mentors, but I can tell you what works for me. Being open-minded and leaving perceptions behind while talking is the first. There is a word we use in Pravah, it’s called “Carefrontation”, it means it is necessary to both, care and confront while we mentor; I think this is a must. Honesty, enthusiasm and above all empathy is needed. I cannot stress on how important empathy is.

As for what a mentor must refrain from doing, I think being unapproachable is one of the biggest sins that can be committed. A mentee needs to feel welcomed and not feel inhibited while approaching a mentor. Apart from that, showing a lack of interest and disrespect would be next on my list.

Nothing makes a mentor more happy than see their mentee grow. Have there been any moments for you? Could you describe some?

Yes, definitely there have been a lot of moments for me. It is difficult to even choose one, but I will try. Last year, I was mentoring a volunteer from Bihar. I think I probably had just three or four conversations with him. His problem was that he didn’t talk much, either to me or anyone of the other volunteers. He felt he would be judged for speaking in Hindi; he was scared of the repercussions he thought he would have to face if he talks. After a couple of conversations with him, I saw him bloom into a different person all together. He grew more confident and he started talking, out loud! Knowing that I have contributed in some small way, is something I will always cherish!

In Conclusion

Mentoring is a hard task, it can sometimes even seem like a thankless job. The time and effort that you invest in a mentee, while leading a busy life of your own can make you question if it is all worth it? You might even wonder, “What am I getting in return?”

We agree with Pratibha when she said,

You would be surprised how amazing it feels to see an individual prosper and know that a part of his success comes from your guidance. As you teach your mentee, you will learn too. You will gain a deeper understanding of yourself as a person and will discover strengths you did not know you had and will admit weaknesses you would want to work on.

A big thanks to Pratibha for sharing her mentoring experiences with us so expressively. Please join us in wishing her many more successes in her career ahead – she certainly deserves it and more for all the light she spreads around her.

Trust us when we say this, the satisfaction of knowing that you are doing your best to help build another individual’s career, will make you feel content and in that moment you will realize it was all worth it.

How to be a Leader not a Boss – Five Reminders and Quotes

How to be a Leader not a Boss – Five Reminders and Quotes

Being a boss is easy. Said no one. Say it out loud, the word “boss”, and reflect on what it means, what it sounds like, and what it evokes in you. There are only a few words which can double as both a noun and a verb, “boss” being one of them. As an employer, you have infinite potential in you to get the best out of your employees. Alternatively, you also have infinite potential to extract the worst out of your employees. To be a leader not a boss is the key here.

Being a boss and being a leader could mean two wholly different things. The plan is, to show your team that you are very much a part of the team and at the helm of affairs. The best way to manage your people and motivate them to be their best is by being more of a leader and less of a boss. No to imposing yourself, stating through overt and covert ways, “who the boss is”, yes to communication, negotiation, trust and motivation. If you’ve ever been bossed by your boss, you know exactly what not to do. But, even the best of us need to be reminded at times. Here are five reminders and quotes about how to be a leader not a boss.

1. Give your employees the benefit of doubt

A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting. – Russell H. Ewing

Most corporate environments today are eerily reminiscent of pre-industrial revolution hell holes. Of course that is an exaggeration, but you get what we mean. The work environment can get extremely stressful, and you do not know why an employee made a mistake he made, until you actually feel it is important to know the cause. Breathe, and communicate. Do not jump to conclusions. Giving your employees the benefit of doubt will also help you give yourself scope for improvement. Maybe you need to do something differently to help your employees perform better. Always be open to that fact.

2. Communication is truly the key

The art of communication is the language of leadership. – James Humes

Respond to emails, invest time in meting out detailed feed-back, organize team lunches and dinners, bond. Don’t assume that people know your vision, you ideas or plans. Communicate them often. And remember that two monologues don’t make a dialogue – communication is a two-way street. Take time to listen, to understand, to discuss. Being a boss can be easy at times, but being a mentor never is. But being a mentor is definitely more valuable for your organization in the longer run, than being a boss.

3. Micromanaging only kills productivity

A good boss makes his men realize they have more ability than they think they have so that they consistently do better work than they thought they could. – Charles Erwin Wilson

Not very long ago, we wrote about the importance of delegating tasks, if you have resources and a team at your disposal, learn how to delegate tasks. It will help both you as well as them. Being a control freak always has adverse effects on your productivity levels. It is impossible to micro manage everything. Also, do acknowledge and trust the talent of other people who have been hired because of their skills to handle the particular tasks. By delegating, you achieve two very important things – 1. The Trust of your employees 2. Productivity.

4. Applaud and motivate your People

If you are a leader, you should never forget that everyone needs encouragement. And everyone who receives it – young or old, successful or less-than-successful, unknown or famous – is changed by it. – John C. Maxwell

The importance of motivating your employees cannot be stressed upon, enough. Letting your employees know that you value them for the great work they do, helps them bring out the best in themselves. You know you are a good leader and a good boss when employees don’t want to let you down. It is important to hold slackers accountable, but it is more important to make it a point to applaud your employees frequently, maybe on a weekly basis. Your employees feel valued when you start or end the week by personally communicating one thing you think each member of your team did a good job with. It may not even be something big. Gratitude does go a long way to inspire and motivate.

5. Apologize when you need to

A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit. – Arnold H. Glasow

Remember that just because you are the boss, does not mean you are immune from making mistakes. Everyone is prone to mistakes and errors. What is more important is putting your ego of being superior aside, and admitting when things go wrong because of something you did, or could have done differently. Most often managers feel this quality makes them vulnerable. In fact, it is the exact opposite. It empowers you to lead your team in a much more productive manner. Humility scores way over hubris – not only for winning hearts but is also great for the bottom-line.

It can be overwhelming to be the person who is, at the end of the day, going to be held responsible or accountable for the way his/her team performs. This pressure to be a leader not a boss, more often than not gets to you. A little pressure, is of course is healthy. But ask yourself this, would you rather be a boss your employees absolutely loathe and detest? Or be a leader who they feel proud to work for. The world of work can never have enough of those kind!

Top 10 Career Quotes from Literature and the Finest Authors

Top 10 Career Quotes from Literature and the Finest Authors

Here at Oorja Biz Ops, we are all voracious readers. We believe that books make the world and the #WorldOfWork a much better place, and rightly so! Wisdom, imagination, hope – books have a lot to offer. They influence, they inspire, they help us understand our lives, our careers. Literature, since the beginning of time, has been able to capture some of the most intense emotions human beings feel and express. Many a times we may not even be able to recognize or describe what we feel, and find the authors putting those exact emotions into words so eloquently. We feel as if the words were written just for us, as if the author has been privy to our innermost thoughts. We relate to the characters, we look for solutions through those characters. In a very short span of reading the book, we traverse an entire tapestry of emotions and feel overwhelmed of how much sharing is possible between an inanimate object, which is the book and us as individuals. Some days are just difficult. It is hard to feel inspired or motivated to get up and get to work. To find meaning in our careers or to find a career that means something. It is during this phase that we assess ourselves the most, we are full of doubts and uncertainty, full of “what ifs”. The good news is, we are not alone. We have heroes from literature and we have writers who created these heroes, who went through the same trajectory, had the same doubts and in the end succeeded. So who better to turn to than these fine authors for some inspiration? Here are some of the best Career Quotes from Literature that the finest authors have gifted us!

Career Quotes #1 : Do not forget Life.

“I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as ‘making a life’.” ― Maya Angelou, I’ve Learned

Career Quotes #2 : You are the CEO of You, Inc.

“It is not in stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves” ― Shakespeare, Julius Caesar 

Career Quotes #3 : Find Your Passion and Make it your Vocation

“Who is willing to be satisfied with a job that expresses all his limitations? He will accept such work only as a ‘means of livelihood’ while he waits to discover his ‘true vocation’. The world is full of unsuccessful businessmen who still secretly believe they were meant to be artists or writers or actors in the movies.” ― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Career Quotes #4 : Say No to Pressure, Take your Time

“When they asked me what I wanted to be I said I didn’t know.”― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Career Quotes #5 : Keep the Faith

“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.”— Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Career Quotes #6 : Never Give Up

“When today fails to offer the justification for hope, tomorrow becomes the only grail worth pursuing.” – Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Career Quotes #7 : Trust in Yourself

“You are your best thing.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

Career Quotes #8 : Purpose is Everything

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” — JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Career Quotes #9 : Happiness is a Choice

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” – JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Career Quotes #10 : Do not Let Your Fire go Out


Being uncertain about your career, or not knowing where you are headed is one of those challenges that can actually be turned into a power house of opportunities. How you think determines the path you take. As John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost – “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Dive in into the fascinating world of literature when you are feeling numb or need to clear your head. You will arise manifold wiser and humbler and ready to take on the #WorldOfWork!

We hope this post on beautiful career quotes from literature has inspired you to keep calm and keep going! Which is your favourite quote from amongst these? Did we leave out your favourite quote? We would love to hear from you!

Five Practices to Get People to Work Together – Entering the Collaboration Zone

Five Practices to Get People to Work Together – Entering the Collaboration Zone

It is tough times for businesses today. Never has it been as important as now to do more with less, share resources and leverage each other’s strengths and get people to work TOGETHER as a single unit to beat the odds. Collaboration is the key to accelerating performance improvements and transformation. Different cultures, working styles and views make any project or initiative that needs collaboration a nightmare.

It does not have to be that way, though.  With a little bit of respect, give-and-take and clear communication, collaboration can become a reality.  Here are five behaviors to get people to work together that if put into practice will align individual performers into a high performance cohesive team ready to take on any challenge:

Get People to Work Together #1: Have One Shared Purpose

Everyone on the team needs to have a shared purpose or goal leaving individual ambitions or personal agendas aside. Before starting on a project or mission, decide what the primary motive for collaboration is and what needs to be achieved when. Pull your weight, give it your best effort and be mindful about deadlines and commitments.

Get People to Work Together #2: Treat Each Other With Respect –

Treat each other with respect. Allow different views to come on the table giving each view equal consideration before collectively agreeing on the best course of action. Listen, participate and contribute. Give value to get value.

Get People to Work Together #3: Share Credit –

Don’t be an appreciation hog and shy away from giving appreciation where it is due. Be quick to praise and slow to blame. Aim for visibility of the group efforts and not just of your own. As Harry Truman said – It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.

Get People to Work Together #4: Let go of the “I” –

You may be an expert and know just the right way to get things done but that’s not what is wanted here. Let go of your ego and consider what the right way is to proceed as a team. Focus your energies and abilities in competing “outside” rather than “inside”. In-fighting is a sure recipe for failure.

Get People to Work Together #5: Leverage Strengths and Manage Weaknesses –

Leverage strengths and make up for each other’s weaknesses to take your group to levels of success that would not have been possible individually. Spend some time knowing each other’s strengths and weakness – ask questions, share ideas, learn new information, and bounce suggestions off one another. Then, divide responsibilities and set accountabilities so that the right people are on the right jobs and the goal becomes manageable.

What other behaviors have worked to get people to work together and improve collaboration in your organization? What irritates you when you are part of a team? I would love to get your insights.

Pic Courtesy : Tim Fishburne, the Marketoonist.