Rama Vani Periasamy

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” — Isaac Newton

Did you know the English word ‘Mentor’ actually originated from the Greek epic ‘The Odyssey’?

When Odysseus had to leave his kingdom to lead his army in the Trojan war, his son Telemachus was left under the guidance of a friend ‘Mentor’. Mentor was supposed to guide and groom Telemachus during his developmental years and make him independent. The word ‘Mentor’ was thus incorporated in the English language. We use the word in the same context that existed in Greek Mythology – to guide a person, make him/her an independent thinker, and a doer.

In the age of technology, there may be tools and enormous amounts of data to get a competitive advantage, but they’re no match for a mentor. The business hall of fame is adorned with the names of people who discovered that finding a mentor made all the difference.

A lot of people have been able to achieve greater heights than they imagined because they were able to tap into their potential and that is the energy mentoring brings in.

In today’s world, a lot of corporate offices offer mentoring programs that cut across age groups (called the cross-gens), backgrounds, and experiences that benefit everyone. But sometimes the mechanisms and expectations of a mentoring program are not clear which makes the practice unsuccessful. Today’s young generation think they have the internet to quench the thirst of their knowledge. They do not see mentors as guiding beacons to success but only help them meet their learning needs. Citing it with an example, mentoring is equivalent to teaching a man to not just fish, but also share the experiences, tricks, and tips, so that he becomes an independent fisher.  More often, our current generation fails to understand that even geniuses like Aristotle and Bill Gates needed a mentor in their lives.

When mentoring is so powerful, why don’t we nurture the relationship? What stops us? Is time a factor? Not really. Any relationship needs some amount of time to be invested and so is the case with mentoring. Putting aside a few hours a month is an easily doable task, especially for something that is inspiring and energizing. Schedules can always be shuffled for priorities.

Now that we know that we have the time, why is it always hard to find a mentor? To begin with, how do you find a mentor? Well, it is not as difficult as we think. When you start looking for them, you will eventually find one. They are everywhere but may not necessarily be in your workplace.

We have the time, we have a mentor, so what are the guidelines in the mentoring relationship?

The guidelines can be extracted very much in the word ‘MENTOR’.

M=Mission: Any engagement works only if you have something to work on. Both the mentor and mentee must agree on the goals and share their mission statement. Creating a vision and a purpose for the mentoring relationship adds value to both sides and this keeps you going. Articulating the mission statement would be the first activity, to begin with in a mentor-mentee relationship.

 E=Engage: Agree on ways to engage that works with your personalities and schedules. Set ground rules on the modes of communications. Is that going to be a one-one conversation periodically or remote calls? Find out the level of flexibility. Is an impromptu meeting fine? Can Emails or text messages be sent? Decide on the communication medium and time.

 N=Network: Expanding your network with that of your mentor or mentee and cultivating productive relationships will be the key to success. While expanding your network will be productive, remember to tread carefully. Seek permissions, respect, and even ask for an introduction before you reach out to the other person’s contacts.

 T=Trust: Build and maintain trust with your mentoring partner by telling the truth, staying connected, and being dependable. And as the mentorship grows, clear communication and honesty will deepen the relationship. Building trust takes time so always keep the lines of communication open.

O=Opportunity: Create opportunities for your mentee or mentor to grow. Being in a mentor-mentee relationship is like a two-way lane, where you can come across opportunities from both sides, which may not be open for non-mentors/mentees. Bringing in such opportunities will only help the other person achieving his/her goal or the mission statement that was set at the beginning.

R=Review and Renew: Schedule a regular time to review progress and renew your mentoring partnership. This will help you keep your progress on track and it will also help you look for short goals to achieve. Reviewing is also going to help retrospect if a different strategy is to be laid out to achieve your goals.

Mentoring may sound irrelevant and unnecessary while we are surviving a pandemic and going through bouts of intense emotions. But I feel it is even more necessary during this most unusual situation we’re facing. Mentoring could be one of the ways to combat anxiety and depression caused by isolation and the inability to meet people face-to-face.

Mentoring can be done virtually through video calls, by setting up a time to track the progress of your goals and discuss challenges/accomplishments.  Mentoring also proves to be the place to ask difficult questions because it is a “No Judging” relationship and the absolute safe place to deal with work-related anxiety and fear. I still recall my early days as a campus graduate where I was assigned a ‘Buddy’, the go-to person. With them, I’d discussed a lot of my ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions of the work and the corporate world, which I had resisted opening up to my supervisors.

Mentoring takes time. Remember the first day you struggled to balance on your bicycle and may have fallen down hurting your knees? But once you learned to ride, you would have loved your time on the saddle. The same applies to mentoring. Investing the time and effort in mentoring will energize you even better than a few hours of Netflix or scrolling on Instagram. Let us create a culture that shares knowledge, guides & encourages nonstop, like how Socrates taught Plato, Plato taught Aristotle and Aristotle held the beacon for many. There is an adage that goes “when you are ready to become a teacher, the student appears”.

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” — Oprah Winfrey

The article is based on the book “One Minute Mentoring” by Ken Blanchard & Claire Diaz Ortiz.

About the Author –

Rama is that everyday woman you see who juggles between family and a 9 hours work life. She loves reading history, fiction, attempting half marathons, and traveling.
To break the monotony of life and to share her interest in books & travel, she blogs and curates at www.kindleandkompass.com