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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.

Five Career Strategies to Maximize your Potential and Performance on your Job

Five Career Strategies to Maximize your Potential and Performance on your Job

Do you believe that the Performance Appraisal systems in your workplace actually work for you? Chances are that you don’t and you are in “good” company here. A study done by Sibson’s Consulting found that Only 30 percent of the study respondents (750 individuals, primarily senior-level human resources (HR) professionals) reported that their employees trust the performance-management system. Given that formal performance appraisals don’t seem to be working as well as they should to give employees their due, one needs to take charge of his/her career and have a self performance management system in place to ensure career growth and commensurate rewards.  Just being good at your work, efficient and cooperative is not enough – it takes more than that to grow and be successful at the workplace today no matter what your job role or level is.

So how does one take charge of their own performance management and hence the rewards arising out of it? What practical steps and behaviors are needed at the work place to ensure a positive outcome at the job? Here are five career strategies drawn out from my experience and analysis with my team and peers of what works:

Career Strategy #1: Work Hard AND Smart – Yup, there is no escaping working hard if you want to be successful. People on the outer edges of the performance bell curve are usually workaholics. But you also need to be smart here – learn to say no to work or assignments that do not fit into your goals early on. Else you are sucked into the vortex of work alcoholism with no real benefit to yourself – doing work that you do not enjoy doing helps no one in the long run. If your heart is not in it, you will not be performing at your best levels. So choose wisely and then be 100 % dedicated to your work.

Career Strategy #2: Promote yourself – This was a hard-earned lesson for me. I had always believed that my work will speak for itself and rewards may be delayed but will never be denied. But then, who has time to wait? You cannot afford to be shy if you want your work to be recognized.  Be aware of your worth and don’t settle for less. You have to be your own marketing manager and actively market the value that you bring in to your manager, department and organization. Make sure people know who you are and what you do. Make your achievements and contributions visible as and when they happen and not just list them at appraisal time. A good way to keeps track of your achievements is also to make your resume a work in progress document that you keep updated as when you achieve a milestone.

Career Strategy #3: Get a mentor or two or three – The advantage of having a mentor at your work (or outside) is multifold. A mentor can help you see a situation differently, identify your key skills and where you need to develop yourself and be someone in your corner when you need some additional support. Look around you to find people who you admire and are role models for where you want to be. Don’t limit yourself to one mentor. You might look to one for  domain expertise, to another for industry expertise, and yet another for personal scenarios when you need practical and helpful advice or brainstorming. And if you are lucky to find a great mentor, invest in that relationship and make sure that you too provide support when your mentor needs it.

Career Strategy #4: Build a network early on – “No man/woman is an island” as they say and in the work scenario, this is amplified. Build a strong and trusted support system of peers at your work place. Draw upon each other’s strengths to get ahead and for back up when you need it. Stay close and vent, strategize and have plain and simple fun within your group. I have also found this to be a good antidote to fight against any negativity (read office politics) in the environment. As you move up in your company or switch jobs or roles, be proactive in building your contact base and staying in touch. You never know who may be of help in boosting your career (and this works both ways) and serendipity often strikes when you are prepared for it. Social media makes this easy nowadays and LinkedIn is a great place to achieve this. There is rich content on the web on maximizing your returns from LinkedIn and here is one from an expert to get you started (http://dngraham.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/five-points-to-consider-before-participating-on-linkedin/).

Career Strategy #5: Keep Learning and Stay Positive – Being a lifelong learner is essential for your career success when skills, technologies and market requirements are changing so rapidly. Not only do you need to be open to new experiences and keep learning to convert your weaknesses to strengths but also to be current and relevant in today’s job market. Set your own training goals for the year and make sure that you keeping adding new skills and knowledge to your repertoire. Limit your exposure to negative environments and people – these are energy suckers and if you are not careful, you would soon be working on fulfilling someone else’s agenda instead of your own. Remain positive and true to your own performance plan and keep moving forward on the goals that you have set for yourself – so much more productive than being distracted by negative office politics or complaint-sessions.

Maximizing your performance and potential on your job needs you to take control of your own career plan – be the CEO of YOU Inc. Be fiercely intentional about where you want to be, know your worth and be BODACIOUS (one of my favourite words – meaning a combination of Remarkable, Courageous, Audacious, Spirited) at work.

I leave you with these words from Abraham Lincoln: Always bear in mind that your own resolution to success is more important than any other one thing.

What would you add to the list above as necessary strategies to Thrive and not just Survive at work? What has worked or not worked for you? I would love to hear back and learn from you.

From Managing to Leading – Five Attitudinal Shifts To Become An Inspiring Leader!

From Managing to Leading – Five Attitudinal Shifts To Become An Inspiring Leader!

Why is it so difficult to find great leaders in the world of work? What is the missing element that makes most super achievers fall short of being super leaders or mentors? What does it take for a skilled manager to become an inspiring leader as well and why do so many managers fail to make this leap? In this disruptive world, there is a burning need for leaders. Much has been written on this topic but there is always space for a new perspective. For today’s post, I invited Nilisha Mohapatra to share her insights on this topic. She has studied and worked in the Human Potential Development field and is a keen observer of people in work environments.

A few thoughts on management and leadership from John P. Kotter before we move on to the insights – he has said that “leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action” and that “leadership complements management – it doesn’t replace it….strong managers produce predictability, stability and order, but leaders create, communicate and implement visions of the future, which enables companies to change themselves in a changing competitive marketplace.”

Organizations are all about its people – which is why, a lot of research has gone into understanding what motivates people! This breadth of on-going research and innovation underlines one fact for me – that people management is the most crucial and most dynamic aspect of an organization. It is difficult too, because there are people involved. So many of them!

So how does one make the shift from managing people to leading people?

There are no cookie-cutter fixes for people management. The more I mull over this, I realize that for me it is all about attitude shifts that we need to bring about, rather than finding tricks for success. It all starts with the mind-set. As Gautam Buddha says, ‘The mind is everything. What You think, You become.’
Let this saying be our Pole Star for this blog post.

Here are my five cents to answer this big question:

1. People are capable and able of owning their careers and their lives. They do not need to be ‘managed’. I believe, all people need, is active mentoring and inspiring leadership. Each individual has a Pandora’s Box of talent within them. I mean it. All it takes is a nudge here, a push there, humaneness and occasional guidance, to unlock this. I have known a lady who continued in a data entry job for 10 years because her seniors believed her capability rested there. The moment she received mentoring to try out something new, she soared. Today she is a successful artist, creating social change using various arts media! This happened when she was at the receiving end of trust, acknowledgement of strengths, encouragement for risks, and effective role modelling. This approach is a belief system shift. It can create magic.

2. Respect people for the choice they make to work with You. The part about the choice here is to believe that many people take up their jobs because they want to do that work. They are drawn to it, have a passion or vision for it. They do not just take up a job for the sake of it.  It is for us to really respect this very choice and nurture it. They choose to join You in the journey/trajectory of your organization and career, to work with you. Not for you. With You. If we can accept and value this, it will go a long way in the team members really having a sense of purpose in their careers, feel more valued and encouraged to contribute more. Engagement will sky-rocket.

3. Invest in people’s learning, and let them grow. At every point of our careers, we all need to learn. We grow because we learn. The higher up we go in our careers and seniority, the more privileged we are to work with increasing number of people. At that point it is then our responsibility as Mentors to facilitate the same kind, or even better opportunities than ours, for our team. Believe it or not, the learning is going to reach you eventually. The beauty of your experience comes into play when you mentor such growth. Investment can be in the form of allowing them to experiment, implement multiple ideas, unleash their creative thinking etc. When you can, create opportunities to invest in your team’s growth. You will foster high performance!

Be instrumental in polishing uncut diamonds.

4. Appreciation: Criticism = 4: 1. It is a scientifically proven fact by psychologist John Gottman that we need to have a 4:1 ratio of positive comments to negative (four acknowledgments for every one correction) in all relationships to have a healthy one. As mentors, we need to LIVE this. This practice really allows you to validate and acknowledge each of your team members for their work. They will feel seen and heard. What is wonderful about this practice is how it opens up the space for each person to receive constructive feedback and accept the room for improvement. If we want them to do more and be more, this would be a great place for us to start with. Genuine validation is all it takes. Start with 3:1 and then get to 4:1.

5. Be Authentic. Be real and allow the person that you are, to come through in your interactions. This is a great way to build a trustful and synergetic environment in your team. This for me is also purely about walking the talk, and leading from within. If you want to motivate someone to be more accountable, you yourself have to take on the next level of accountability. Want your team to take more risks? Demonstrate risk taking. Set the tone with this authenticity. That way everyone knows that You as a mentor will always have their back!

Over time as I have discussed these ideas with people I meet, I have been told that such mentors are a rare breed indeed. And I understand why it is so. Because this is a conscious and persistent choice we are talking about, which will undo years of conditioning, which might have its roots in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution! But I firmly believe that with these five attitudinal shifts, we can really transform the landscape of ‘people management’ into ‘people mentoring’. And that is the need of the hour.

“We all need to be leaders, regardless of our formal title or role. This starts with inner self-leadership and moves outward to influence, guide, support, and lead others. The process of becoming a leader is the same as the process of becoming a highly effective human being. Leadership development is personal development. Leadership ultimately shows itself in what we do “out there.” But it starts “in here.” “~Jim Clemmer – Growing the Distance

Be your indulging mentor. Let it start with you, because You Matter! I believe that the choice to start a phenomenal trend, lies with You. So let it roll!

What have we missed ? What are your observations on making the shift to inspiring leadership ? Nilisha and I would love to hear back and learn from you.

Nilisha is trained as a Mentor Trainer, delivering complex training to Indian volunteers learning to become mentors to disadvantaged children. She has a Masters in Applied Psychology and has transformed herself into a creative and inspiring trainer who both taught acceptance and behaviour change as well as living the principles in her training. This is Nilisha (@NilishaM)’s fifth guest post for Happy In The Now and you can read all her blogs at fantasycluster.wordpress.com


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