Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Much has been written about the importance of having a mentor in the workplace, a person who can guide you through the ups and down take you under his or her wing, and nurture your career. But in reality, finding a good mentor can be a tough ask.

Traditionally, A mentor is an individual, who is more experienced and generally older, who helps and guides another individual’s development. Generally, this terminology is used to refer to the person who guides you in the workplace. These relationships usually evolve depending on the need and requirement of the mentee. Many a times, we start following a senior person in our offices whom we admire. This may happen unconsciously or consciously. But the more we admire a person, more we try to act like him or her. But the actual mentor-mentee relationship takes place only when the senior person (the mentor) starts taking interest in your career and gives his/her guidance. Usually this guidance is not done for personal gain.

Although the major benefit from this association is drawn by the mentee, even mentors have much to gain from a mentoring relationship. This is an opportunity for mentors to showcase their ability to identify and develop new talent. Talking/discussing professional and personal issues with new and young professionals helps them keep in touch with the latest happenings and brings out new perspectives for them as well. Moreover, being able to share their expertise, or just wanting to help out, be a positive influence, or give back something to their community is an important motivator for mentors. But no matter what the reason for being a mentor is – people find it a very enriching and rewarding experience that also contributes to the organization and the profession.

But whether you are a mentor or a mentee, it is important to keep few things in mind as that this beautiful and life enriching relationship is not soured. Trust is the basis of a mentoring collaboration-a base on which all other aspects of the relationship is built. And it should never be broken.

For a Mentor, it is useful to draw the boundaries of the association. There are certain things which should be avoided such as :

• Financial help in mentee's business or life pursuits Doing so in a formal mentoring partnership changes the relationship and causes a conflict of interest. You are unable to be neutral and objective to the performance and have a higher stake in his/her success propelling you to do more than required. The mentee could even become totally dependent upon you or start taking your support for granted.

• Doing the actual work for your mentee – Sometimes in order to be more helpful, the mentors start doing the work of the mentee such as handling projects, writing reports etc. But this practice is more harmful rather than helpful. Not only are you as a mentor doing extra work, you are making the mentee dependant without teaching him anything.

• Playing personal counselor –Usually, a true mentor will not limit their helping to work-related issues and provide advice for life situations as well but it is important to maintain a thin line which should not be crossed. It is one thing to advise the mentee regarding situations and another to get involved personally. Thus mentors should never get personally involved in the lives of their mentees.

For a Mentee:

• Decide what you need in a mentor – It is better to choose someone working in the same functional area as you are, as well as someone who shares your values. Many organizations have started formal mentorship programmes, but it is still not much in vogue in Indian companies. So, you might have to do your own matching.

• Never ask your direct supervisors to be your mentor – There is too much of a conflict in this relationship. Better have someone with whom you can talk freely about career and workplace issues. You do not want them asking about your latest project when you need advice on another issue.

• Avoid a mentor who is too controlling, judgmental, or a know-it-all – You do not want to be controlled like a child. Some mentors become too possessive. Stay away from them. Look for someone who is positive and will be happy to guide you and share his/her experience with you.

• Look for someone who is trustworthy. You must feel safe in order to reveal your weaknesses. The role of mentors is to help mentees feel comfortable. Make sure the person you are choosing as a mentor can keep things confidential. Or else all your weak points and mistakes that you shared will become part of the office gossip.

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