“Mentoring is an art only few could claim to have mastered and here, a few practices that can help one gain this mastery.”
Do you think we are not mentoring our subordinates? What do you expect us to do differently? As the question that was posed by one of our senior managers at the end of a day-long programmer on mentoring. I felt that the efforts of the whole day were watered down by this simple question. As we grow into senior levels, one vital responsibility that gets added up, though it may not be slept out explicitly in your Job Description is ‘mentoring’ of the greenhorns. Mentoring calls for an earnest interest to groom the youngsters and it is more about attitude than about skills. It is quite a task to provide structured instructions as to what mentors should do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis and any such regimented exercise would be devoid of the spirit of mentoring. However, when I recently happened to observe the way yoga masters taught their learners to learn some difficult postures (asanas), I felt quite a few things could apply to mentoring practice.
Drill the habit of ‘learning by doing’
You cannot simply learn the difficult postures of yoga just by listening to your yoga master. What masters do to teach them is to get you into doing it right away. You get to listen to instructions as you practice and now your listening is more intense because it matters to what you do.
Mentoring is not about giving monologues to your captive proteges but getting them into action. Assign them projects and assignments where they can learn from first hand experience. The best way to help them is to guide them by sharing from your experience the possible pitfalls they need to be wary of.
Give it when they need it the most
Masters were doing the rounds and giving us instructions, but were not intervening in every step. The mere feeling that they were around gave us the confidence to try out postures which we would dare not, left to ourselves. And help was at hand, when we faced difficulty.
It is but natural that a greenhorn would be twice careful about trying out anything new for the fear of making mistakes and would rather avoid the risk. But that does not mean that you spoon-feed. As a mentor, all you need to do is to give them the confidence that when you are around, they can’t go wrong and if at all they do, you are there to assure them ‘main hoon na’
Push for the little extra stretch
A maxim we have in our vernacular says, ‘what was not bent at five can not be bent at fifty’. After attending the yoga session, I don’t subscribe to this view anymore. You can, if you persevere to bend of course, under the guidance of a right trainer. Yes, there could be pain in trying to flex what has hardened up for years. But the gentle push the masters gave at the right point made us stretch beyond the normal, and the feeling that we were capable of doing it took the pain out of the extra-stretch.
Mentoring is no different. It is the onus of mentors to ensure that their proteges do not settle into a comfort zone that may mar their growth. Mentors need to give that extra push to stretch them beyond the comfort zone and take them to newer levels consistently.
Support when they tilt
Sometimes, when a beginner in an organisation is assigned to a difficult and challenging project that calls for coping with different pushes and pulls, demanding customers and tight deadlines, s/he may tend to lose emotional balance and might decide to call it quits.
All that is needed of mentors is to provide that emotional support to keep their Protagoras in balance like how our yoga masters did. They were right there and provided a kind of scaffolding support to prevent us from tilting and falling off while trying some difficult upside-down postures (Sirasasana).
Make them feel good even in awkward positions
A beginner, when trying to do a new thing, could get into an awkward situation until
s/he learns the ropes and becomes adept at it. You would agree with me if you could recall the time you made your first presentation to top management. Many a time, awkward situations thwart the youngsters from trying it out again in future and becoming better at it. If it is a crucial skill for success, then it could mar their growth. But a mentor can help a great deal in such situations by elevating their feelings and giving constructive feedback while stripping out the awkward feeling associated with the event.
So, if you have been doing all these already, then you don’t probably need to be sitting in a mentoring session.