“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” ― Margaret Mead
Reading this quote made me wonder; did my mother follow this? On further introspection, I realized that she did; she never forced me to do anything, she just introduced me to ideas. For instance, reading. It started with reading me bedtime stories to encouraging me to read the newspaper out loud, then following it up with getting me children’s books when she realized that I enjoyed reading. She never forced upon me any hobby or interest, she introduced me to new activities, observed whether I developed any interest for them and when she saw that interest, she encouraged me to explore it further.
Today, when I read books, write articles, speak at public events, I may not openly acknowledge it, but it is because of that foundation which she laid for me, that I have been able to build my entire skillset. If we look at parallels for this in the business world, then I would say this is what one means by mentorship – a maternal approach to refine the next generation.
Just like a mother, a mentor needs to understand the protégés pros & cons, observe their inclinations and guide them to build on their positive attributes and work on mitigating the effect of those attributes which are holding him/her back from growing, and in turn, help his/her success journey.
It is a wrong belief that only a select few can be protégés. It is, however, true that a select few understand and cope with the mentor’s guidance. That’s why we see only few successful mentor-protégé relationships. As a leader, I look at myself as a mentor to all who are junior to me. It is then up to the juniors, whether they want to continue being my protégés or not.
A leader leads by example, but a mentor leads by aligning the examples as per the protégé’s – needs. The objective of mentorship is not to create your own replica but use your experience to help the protégé become a better and a more successful version of himself/herself. Spoon-feeding never works in mentorship; the mentor is the guide, but the efforts and the intelligence has to be that of the protégé.
Considering my deep interest in Hindu mythology, I would give the example of Lord Krishna & Arjun on the Kurukshetra battlefield. Lord Krishna being the charioteer made sure that he guided Arjun to be present at the right place at the right time, be a silent force helping & guiding him behind the scenes. In the end, all the hard work was that of Arjun. Lord Krishna was the ideal mentor, a man with skills to finish things on his own. However, he chose to take a backseat, giving an opportunity to his protégé to use his skills and shine in the battlefield.
Mentors also need to realize theirs as well as their protégé’s limitations. Not every protégé has the same skills or intelligence. It is thus the job of the mentor to assess the extent to which a person can improve and guide them to that point. To develop the protégé into the best version of himself is what the mentor can do. A mentor is not expected to create a new person altogether.
One of the most important flaws in mentors also runs parallel to mothers; not letting go of their babies. As they know that they have a key role in creating this person, it is difficult to let go of that person when he/she wishes to leave the nest. But mentors must realize that it was their duty to guide the protégés till the point from where they can take off on their own and fight their own battles, probably go on to be mentors to others. Stopping them is wasting all the effort spent in mentoring them. So, “Let Go”.
And, as they say “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for”.