Tutors, mentors, tormentors. What would I do without you!

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This is a tribute to paying back to all those wonderful people who stepped into my life and made a difference:

Ronnie Screwvala for his sense of scale and opportunity sizing

Rajiv Agarwal for his precision & excellence in client relationships

Sumit Roy for ensuring every big idea was “thought-through”

Shashank Joshi for his fanatic obsession with numbers and organisation of deliverables.

And ofcourse at the top of the heap – Meenakshi Menon for her leadership skills & business orientation.

Come to think of it, what is mentoring all about?

Is mentoring about being a guru?

Is it about grooming the next breed of leaders or creating a band of docile followers?

Is it leading by example or nit-picking on personal styles and choices?

Or is it about workplace culture and organizational issues or getting personal and intrusive?

When I started my career in advertising 20 years ago, there was no structured Mentoring program. We were not taught or coached. We would simply look up to our seniors and follow their ways of working and sometime their mannerisms too. They often led by example. Our leaders displayed through their behavior and conduct what could never be imparted in formal training or coaching sessions.

But then, the world is not the same anymore. Complex business environments call for a better aligned workforce.

Mentoring is a program, a discipline. And rightly so.

Mindtree, for example has a well-rounded mentoring program designed to address the physical, digital, intellectual and emotional aspects of becoming an engineer of tomorrow. Google is using mentoring to get over racism and bring in a more diverse hiring practice. The global tech giant now runs mentoring programs in Historically Black Colleges and Universities to increase the number of Afro-American hires.

These are interesting efforts and in the right direction. But more often than not, mentors have a tendency to turn tormentors. How do you differentiate a mentor from a tormentor? What really characterizes a true mentor? If I can sum it all up, a mentor focuses on the mentee, equips them to face organizational challenges and helps them develop critical faculty to be a leader.

A mentor does not take over and does not bring down. Mentors lead the way, they don’t interfere. They direct and not dictate.

Sure, we need mentors. Mentors mend our ways of thinking and allow us to develop a well-rounded perspective, unlike tutors who drill in a very narrow world-view.

I picked this rare quote that depicts clearly the essence of my context. Lord Charles Allen, on being

Lord Charles Allen, on being mentor to the Chief Executive and the Global Radio Board said, “In my role as chairman, I am the mentor and the tormentor to the chief executive and the board.I am there to support them (the execs), ask them to look at things again, get things on the agenda but I’m not there to make decisions”.

If you have interesting mentor or mentee challenges and confessions, do share them with me.

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