19 Aug 2020 19:46 IST

The importance of being a good mentee

Benefits of a committed ‘coachee’ are immense; it multiplies and accelerates one’s leadership impact

Over the Independence Day weekend, at TalentEase (https://mentorspace.talentease.com/) we launched our new MentorSpace portal offering young adults the opportunity to discover, develop and unleash their potential and strengths through conversations with world@work mentors, certified coaches and qualified counsellors. The launch brought home memories of and gratitude for all the mentors and coaches in my own life. My dad, mum, wife, many friends, and several other mentors through the different jobs I’ve held over the years. I’ve also had the honour and privilege of mentoring and coaching several colleagues and friends in a mutually rewarding journey.

For leaders to fight stagnation and embrace continuous growth, I’d suggest following two habits — to seek a mentor and to be a mentor. In this piece we’ll try and deal with the why, what and how of being a good mentee or ‘coachee’ and in the next we’ll try and focus on how we can be effective when it is our turn to mentor or coach.

Even though mentoring and coaching are distinct, I’ll use the word mentoring to refer to both and avoid the repetition. What is the difference? Perhaps an example will help. Sachin Tendulkar’s coach was Ramakant Achrekar, his mentor was his brother Ajit Tendulkar. Each may have played both mentor and coach at different times in Sachin’s life, but Achrekar was focussed primarily on improving Sachin’s performance as a batsman. His grip, his stance, how he would handle a particular bowling style, and so on. But Ajit was focused on all of Sachin’s growth — how he dealt with stress, how he handled the fans and the fame, how he managed his financial windfall, how he made time for the family.

What kind of a disposition or attitude do we need to get started on and have a meaningful mentoring journey?

Openness

This needs to spring from a regular habit of self-examination. A former colleague recently reached out to me for mentorship. I was deeply edified by both his self-awareness and humility. Unless we have a strong desire for growth, recognise that we all have blind spots, accept that we need help and support in our life and career journeys, we can’t set a good foundation for mentoring based conversations.

I often visit schools as part of our work with TalentEase. Usually, you’re told to park the car right next to a playground or eating area. As my car doesn’t have a reverse camera, I’m petrified to reverse the car for the fear of a child running past at the wrong time. I never feel comfortable relying on just the rear view and side mirrors. So, a simple rule I have is that, unless someone is standing behind to guide me, I do not reverse the car. \

I think the same rule applies in business — when we are in situations where we can’t see all the risks and opportunities, when our own leadership needs guidance — it’s best to seek help. A mentor adds value just from seeing things from a different perspective than ours. It needs genuine openness to seek that guidance and make changes based on the insights received. The start of the journey especially requires courage, because it means leaving behind our zone of invincibility and becoming vulnerable and transparent.

Clarity

We seek mentoring or coaching sometimes when we are confused, which is perfectly understandable. But we should have clarity about why we are seeking this intervention and what outcomes we are looking to gain from it. A goal-less set of conversations will end up just being that — a goal-less set of conversations. It is important therefore to spend some time asking ourselves — what would success look like if this mentoring conversation has to work for me? A good idea is to prepare for the mentoring journey with a log of decisions over the past year. What was the rationale when I made the decision? What impact did I intend to have? What was the actual impact six months later? This gives both mentor and mentee excellent raw material to work with, that is objective and clear.

Candour

Many mentoring conversations end up hitting a dead-end because of the lack of honesty and candour. In a scenario where openness is required, mentees sometimes dance around reality. Defence mechanisms kick in that prevent an honest look at the truth. Skilled mentors and coaches find ways to suss this out and dig for the truth, but it leads to a needless waste of time. A mentee must know that the usefulness of the conversation is dependent on facing the hard-truths.

Commitment

While the coaching engagement is usually more structured and generally shorter term, a mentoring journey can last much longer. But both require the commitment of the mentee. There is no magic pill. It’s more like yoga where consistent practice is what gives the benefits. This can’t be something that we embark on based on convenience. If we are deeply convinced of the need, then we will be committed to it and will make time for it. Not just the session itself but to the time before and after. Before - to prepare for the session, to be able to bring to the session all that the mentor will find useful. After – for the extremely important time of reflection. Sometimes you do get an insight during the mentoring conversation, but very often the most helpful insights come after you’ve had time to let the conversation and its reflections simmer.

The benefits of being a committed mentee are immense. It often multiplies and accelerates my leadership impact. My team benefits. The organisation benefits and the customers and stakeholders we serve benefit. Leaders also find that a fruitful mentoring journey is personally rewarding. It provides the growth and rigour that more informal learning opportunities might not.

Leadership can be a lonely journey and just the experience of being able to open up to a trusted mentor can itself be both consoling and strengthening. For Catholics the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession where a Catholic can confess his sins to a priest in fullest confidence is very enabling. With a committed priest, these sessions can straddle mentoring, coaching and counselling but the very act of being able to share without fear of being judged, is itself empowering experience. So too, leaders can find the mentoring journey an experience of revelation, reflection and renewal. There's no better time to start on this habit than right now.

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