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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.

5 Reasons Why You Need A Mentor – II

5 Reasons Why You Need A Mentor – II

Continuing with our previous post on why having a mentor is a great idea for professional development, we present to you the final two reasons in favor of it!

4. You can follow in their footsteps: Having a mentor translates into having a guide. A guide with immense knowledge, and someone who has already been where you are today. Say you’ve always dreamed of managing your own PR firm—but you’re a little fuzzy on the details of how you’ll get there. Obviously, every career path is different, but having a mentor with your dream job is a great way to figure out what your next step (or four) should be. Maybe your mentor got a degree in marketing, then moved to New York to work at a PR agency. Then he/she spent a couple of years building up a huge network of contacts in the industry before branching out on his/her own. Look at that, your list of goals went from, “Graduate college, become owner of PR agency,” to, “Get marketing/advertising degree, find employment at firm in big city, go to networking events and make lots of connections, build credibility and reputation” !

You can also emulate your mentor in less obvious ways. Is he or she an avid user of social media? If that is something you feel has boosted his/her professional growth, you may do a self-assessment on how you would fare. If you currently work with your mentor, you could try asking to sit in on a meeting or phone call and pay attention to how your mentor interacts with others. Whoever said imitation was the sincerest form of flattery had it right.

5. The requisite confidence booster: We all have those days where it feels like we’re playing hide and seek with our confidence. Meaning, it’s missing in action. However, it doesn’t matter if your mentor has the job you want or a completely different one—he or she can be a great cheerleader, pumping you up when you’re feeling deflated, inspiring you to keep trying or reassuring you that you didn’t just flub up that interview.

As a result, you won’t feel like you’re totally alone trying to navigate in the career world. Because feeling as lost as Hrithik in Lakshya is good for movie, but it’s not so fun in real life.

It can also be incredibly difficult to keep things in perspective when you’re working at your first couple of internships or jobs; after all, you don’t have any experiences to compare them to. You may think it’s a huge deal that you spilled coffee all over your manager’s sparkling white button-up, but she tells you everyone has those moments—and then the protocol on buying your boss a new shirt.

Also, your mentor can push you to take on projects or apply for jobs that you don’t think you’re qualified for. A couple of people in the department you’re interning for are starting a massive rebranding project, and you think you have some valuable insights—but you’re scared of speaking up. If your mentor is just a phone call away, he or she can give you the confidence you need for volunteering!

Agree less? Agree wholeheartedly? Disagree completely? We love hearing from you. Do write in!

5 Reasons Why You Need A Mentor – I

5 Reasons Why You Need A Mentor – I

Coaching and mentoring are increasingly becoming indispensable for professional development, which indicates a positive change in individuals, showing their willingness to learn and grow. Organizations and companies find coaching and mentoring highly beneficial for the career growth of their employees. This helps not only the employee grow but also boosts the reputation of the organization, as a place which is concerned about the careers and growth of its employees. Even if your organization does not have a system of assigning you to mentors, it is still a great idea to find yourself one.

The best thing about a mentor is that you don’t have to be close to him or her personally, to benefit from his or her experiences. If you don’t live in the same city, or if you only talk once a month over phone or even if you only communicate via email—that’s okay!

Here are the first three of the five reasons for it!

  1. Foundation for a professional network. Having a great mentor, especially as you start your career, can jumpstart your professional network. Your mentor can introduce you to others in his or her network, and those connections can prove to be invaluable. There will be people who will take time for you because both you and they are connected to your mentor. Building a professional network is the key to growth and chances that you will find your next mentor through this very strategy can be pretty high. Nevertheless, getting the referral of someone who counts, is a huge boost anywhere.
  2. Improvement in Performance. With the help of a good mentor, you can work more efficiently with a clearer view of the future you are trying to achieve. This helps you feel more confident in your job, which leads to better job performance and more success along your chosen road.
  3. Thinking Outside the Box. A mentor can help you look at situations in new ways. He or she can ask hard questions and help you solve problems. They can help you gain a level of self-awareness which you thought you weren’t capable of. Facts like using your emotional intelligence to make judgements, reviews and take risks can be learnt from talking to a mentor, because you’ll never be as scared as they were when they did something risky. You will become proficient in understanding your own judgements and take the path less taken to overcome obstacles.

If you see reason in the first three reasons, you are going to like our concluding post on this topic even more. Tune in to our blog for the second part on “5 Reasons Why You Need a Mentor”!