Elections and Leadership Lessons – 5. how not to be a mentor

This is a leadership lesson of what not to do rather than what to do. There is a huge surge towards “mentoring” and “coaching” programs in organizations. Two reason why this is probably happening – people move into senior management and leadership roles at a young age, so need a coach it provide the experience that’s lacking; two, the CEO factories like General Electric and Unilever speak highly about the “mentoring” programs that help them churn out high quality leaders. The trend is very welcome and as with any new trend, everyone wants to get onto the new gravy train. Let’s look at an example of the type of person who shouldn’t get onto this gravy train 🙂

In the run up to the general elections, Mr. Modi was nominated to lead the BJP’s election campaign in June 2013. Mr. Advani went into a blue funk that he is yet to get out of !! And this man was Mr. Modi’s mentor and someone who stood by his side when the infamous riots took place in 2002. He did a great job as a mentor till this point in time. Not just ModiJi, there is a plethora of young leaders, the second rung of leadership pretty much was developed by Mr. Advani, so why the angst ? The angst is because he fears irrelevance, and being reduced to a footnote in India’s political history. But just imagine if Saina Nehwal’s coach, Gopichand thought that way – she would never have won any major tournament. When his protege wins, the coach or mentor should be the first one to rejoice.

There is a difference between coaching and mentoring. While coaching assumes peership, mentoring assumes a hierarchy. A mentor in an organization can and should intervene on behalf of his mentee, but a coach would not. There is one big similarity between both coaching and mentoring, they both are meant to help a person reach his/her potential and the unspoken quality that a mentor or a coach needs is the ability to “give”. Give freely of his/her time, of his/her knowledge and keep thinking of giving. The payback is when the coachee or mentee reaches beyond his/her potential. Anyone aspiring to be a coach or mentor needs to have a “giving” heart, otherwise this relationship will end up doing no good. It’s not a “job” :).

We have different forms of “Advani” type coaches and mentors. They like being called a mentor, but don’t have a framework of how to develop the colleague, don’t have the time or inclination to really get to know the colleague and most of all, they are keen to put this on their CV as a “good” thing they did. When you see the word mentor or coach, probe some more – did their coachee, mentee move ahead in the organization, did they develop new skills, did they expand their comfort zone or shrink it and how many hours did this person spend in the role of the coach/mentor. The new concept making the rounds is of reverse mentoring that some organizations are implementing, where you get a young new hire to mentor a senior manager/leader so that the generational divide can be overcome. Love the idea, but first coach the senior manager/leader to be a good listener and to have an open, non-judgemental mindset, otherwise this would not work. I don’t want to talk of ego, but that’s a big roadblock too.

Just replay the scenes from June 2013, and imagine how revered Mr. Advani would have been if only he had personally announced the elevation of Mr. Modi as the leader for their election campaign or later for the PM’s role and even later not make the “Krupa” comment. I would have become a bigger fan of Mr. Advani than Mr. Modi’s as would have millions of others. Making way for the new is a sign if maturity and wisdom. How many people in the corporate world admire Mr. Kamath for his role as a mentor to many women leaders. Everytime one speaks of Chanda Kocchar, you remember Mr. Kamath as well. That’s the opportunity Mr. Advani missed and missed by several miles.

So if you fancy yourself as a coach or mentor – “give” freely and rejoice in your mentee/coachee’s success, that’s your success. Don’t worry about irrelevance.

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