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.


  1. Hi Nathan,

    This is again a nice writing from you...Always used to be part of your sessions while I was in Deloitte....right from regular meetings of yours to DCLC.

    Taking the following lines as lesson from you today:

    Positive affirmations are more powerful than negative comments and helps change behavior.

    Will practice this going forward. Thanks for sharing your real experiences always with the team.

    Thank you,
    Suman Dhulipalla.

  2. Very nice one Nathan, it is absolutely true "Positive affirmations are more powerful than negative comments".

  3. Yes its always better but difficult to focus on the positive affirmations.We are born critiques!!

    Good read......


  4. This is the one that made me sit up, think and watch out for more of your work. Lol, It was so influential that i was very particular of 'extra' shining my shoes whenever you visited the bangalore office. :) I have not lost focus on the bigger picture behind this article. Thank You for sharing!

  5. Dear Nathan Sir, your words as usual are movingly expressive and time im-bibed to capture subtle human experiences. As i lead a team of 17 resources, my mind is constantly in a race against deadlines to persuade my protege to look inwards on his or her own accomplishments which could further organizational goals. But as your speech says there is more to be a mentor and i would strive to do so.

  6. Thank you Nathan, I happen to listen this from you, but it always nice to read and listen you.

    Thank you, i am waiting for the coached one now :)

  7. It was always lovely to listen to you.. I remember the seccions at Deloitte. I m glad that I m not deprived even after leaving Deloitte. Wonderful writing, Nathan.

  8. A perfect example of Positive Reinforcement leading to commitment...Studies show that pressure tactics or punishments lead to resistance or compliance at best, but not commitment.

    Thanks Nathan for sharing this awesome real life example.

  9. Hi Nathan,
    The same happened with me, where i used to go late to my school everyday,my principal watched me and noticed me everyday,but never said anything anytime...but one day when i went early to school before the bell rang,he told me " are early today, very good keep it up". that before day was the last day where i went late to school.and from then where ever i go,its on time.
    Thanks Nathan,for a wall where i could share my experience.
    Yacham Sahitya Sudha.

  10. Great article Nathan.
    Its always good to talk about the "POSITIVES" and not the "Negatives".We as individuals are unique in our very own way. I believe, talking about the "positive affirmations" or "positive reinforcements ", stem out of the ingrained faith a manager has, on his/her team members.
    would be eagerly awaiting the next issue.
    Saikat Sen

  11. Great article Nathan...the statement “positive affirmations are more powerful than negative comments and helps change behavior” is an extremely powerful insight so thanks for sharing.