Friday, January 6, 2012

Mentoring and Why I Polish My Shoes

A compass; an instrument that provides direction, most often leading us to our destination.

An anchor; a guide in our journey, professional or personal, most often helps us stay rooted to our goals.

A mentor is that anchor, and that compass in our lives that we need to get our ship to the shores of our choice.

In my career of several years, mentoring has played an important role. I have been a protégé and in more recent times, a mentor. Mentoring is a personal way of sharing knowledge and ideas, combining perspectives in new, motivating ways, with your juniors and peers. It is a developmental partnership. One that for me has even got me to do the most basic of habits, of polishing my shoes!

A mentor is someone we speak to, our sounding board, a mirror, maybe even our microscope or telescope, a compass and an anchor. He/she is someone who helps us create a space for reflection through a few simple questions that help lead to the path of self discovery of our potential.

Creating self awareness in the mind of the protégé: ‘Who am I? Where am I?’

  • Building a vision in the mind of the protégé:  ‘Where do I want to go?’
  • Change to be brought about: ‘What do I need to change to get where I want to be?’
  • ‘What do I do to get ahead in my goal?’

These simple questions are the crux of every mentor-protégé relationship. The way these questions might be put across and embedded in your professional and personal journey is what makes every mentor-protégé relationship unique and exciting.

Over the years I have been lucky to have numerous colleagues and seniors as mentors. Many of them are the ones I still turn to for advice and guidance. One of the first mentors’ experience in my professional life that I will never forget, was the one I shared with my first boss. I was working as a management trainee. He had this knack of noticing the good in people more than their faults!  I for one did not lose a moment to point out a fault. My boss noticed this in me, and could have easily called me out on it, but he didn’t. I used to have a habit of not polishing my shoes. Almost every day, my shoes were unpolished and muddied, walking through the narrow road I took to work. But again, my boss never said anything about this to me. A few months later, the rainy season began, and my shoes were clean, walking in the rain. My boss looked at me and said, “Nathan, your shoes are polished, well done!” A little embarrassed but only because I knew he had noticed the earlier times when they weren’t shiny, I mumbled thanks and walked out of the room.

The next day onwards, what do you think was the one thing I did before I set out to work? - polish my shoes! He caught me off guard, but at a time when something I did was right, as opposed to pointing out something wrong that I was repeatedly doing. This has been a memorable lesson, one that got me to notice people doing something right and point it out. I realized early in my career, positive affirmations are more powerful than negative comments and helps change behavior. A mantra that has been extremely helpful in my relationships as a professional.

You can have a mentor for different aspects of your life. You can have a mentor for helping you with your finance, or a spiritual mentor, a technology mentor or a mentor for your career. Choose your mentor well. Someone who you look up to, and has the time and the patience to help you. Someone you can rely on to keep you honest when you falter. And, when you see someone who meets your threshold, all you need to do is to reach out and ask that person. Over time I have found a need to choose new mentors and that is equally important. So go on, find a mentor if you don’t have one already, and work towards building a meaningful and successful association. Shine your shoes, shine your life.

We also need to be ‘coached’ to be better professionals and that is another story... so stay tuned.

Of Purpose and Job Satisfaction

I went to Bangalore recently and was fortunate to see a special cricket match. Each team was made up of a few employees of my company and a few young children below the age of 8 or so. It was a well contested match and was attended by a large contingent of unruly children who were not even sure of the rules of the game but were applauding when it seemed appropriate. A few teachers were around to keep some of the restive children in check lest they wandered over. The rest of the spectators were office goers on a late Friday afternoon, enjoying the game.

Then I met a young lady - Mom Banerjee. Yes that is her name. She runs a trust called ‘Samridhdhi’ which she founded in 2007. She runs a bridge school program that makes the children of migrant workers ‘ready’ for main stream school. Mom was once working in a large MNC and in a comfortable job. Where she worked, there were a lot of construction activity around her campus. She noticed that a lot of migrant workers from Bihar, Bengal Orissa really had no access to education for their children. So, almost 1500 of such children were sans education and pretty much played around the whole day or were employed as rag pickers. Being picked in their prime instead. Sad.

Mom could not come to terms with herself, and decided that the children needed an education. She quit her well-paying job, and started a prep school for such children who could go to normal school once they caught up with the learning they had missed. So, Mom and a bunch of teachers now work to ‘bridge the schooling of three years’ into one and make them ready for normal school. So, they could enroll in grade 3 instead of LKG !!  This meant teaching them for over 8 hours a day, motivating them to come to learn, and get their parents to recognize that they would have to pay for normal schooling. Very difficult indeed!! It asked for a lot of commitment from Mom and her teachers. As I was listening to her I was fascinated by her passion and zeal in her work. She had to network with other NGOs and organizations to seek funds, train teachers, organize health camps, motivate parents to continue sending children to school!

Why would a well-paid young executive give up everything to do such a thing? Meanwhile the cricket match was in full swing. And I was completely absorbed in what Mom was doing. I asked her as to what motivated her to give up everything to plunge into such work of long hours and little appreciation. Where did she derive her job satisfaction?    Just then a child came up to her. Mom bent down to listen to her. The child told her that she wanted to go back to her prep school instead of wasting her time watching the cricket match. Would her teachers teach them some more time in the afternoon, so that she could ‘quickly’ go to a regular school?  Mom looked at me and smiled.

I got my answer in her smile. As I walked away from her I understood the meaning of purpose…and what satisfaction meant to a selfless leader in our midst. Mom, you live your name, you do!