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Why we need more mentors in education and technology.

In my years with Goldman Sachs, we used to have a series where managing directors and partners would share with the employees - 'The best advice you ever got'. It got me reflecting about what such advice have I received. A professor of mine had once said -

For the introductory years of your career, never worry about what you are working on, or where you are employed, or how much money you are making. What you should care about is who you are working with, because they play a big role in defining who you will be in the rest of your life!

And that is exactly what has stuck around with me even now. However, once you enter the corporate arena, you will be surprised how hard it is to find people around you who are actually mentor material, people from whom you can learn how to navigate through work and life. It is pretty much the same situation in primary, higher and professional education. Rarely do you come across managers, teachers or professors who are willing to spend some time and go out of the way to invest in your personal and professional growth. Just like we have parents at home to guide us through our childhood and we listened to them because we trusted them to know more than we did, judge right from wrong and plan the future with us; similarly, we all need pseudo parents in every domain of life, people who have experienced the domain way more than us, has the knowledge and experience enough to know the ideas from the mistakes, and is willing to help you navigate the perils of your life - They are called mentors.
Behind every success story is a fantastic mentor. Countries like India are experiencing a mentorship gap as over 70% of young professionals are clueless about who to approach when they want advice on their career path, according to a survey backed by LinkedIn. In this changing landscape, mentorship is key to guide young India in the right direction to reach their individual goals, it added. Not just individuals, even fledgling companies and startups could benefit from a good mentorship program. Research by the UK-based Federation of Small Businesses has shown that small businesses that have received mentorship have superior survivability rates when compared to non-mentored businesses. Qualities one should seek in a Mentor
  • Knowledge: A mentor from the same domain and from the specific area of your work can help you understand the nuances and intricacies of the trade in a better way. General mentors typically provide generic advice; at times, this isn’t enough.
  • Compassion and Genuineness: You will need to closely work with your mentor, so a good chemistry helps. The mentor should be passionate about what he/she does, and also empathize with you, help you look at the bigger picture, and assist you through the various trials and tribulations that you might face. Depression and blues are common problems faced by students and young entrepreneurs, and a good mentor can help reduce some of the burden. However, avoid strongly opinionated mentors. There should be space to openly discuss differing viewpoints and merge on common grounds quickly.
  • Effective Communication: It goes without saying that as a mentor, you're regarded as an expert in your field or area of responsibility. But it's one thing to know what you're doing; it's entirely another to be able to clearly explain what you know--and to be willing to take the time to do it.
  • Network effects: A mentor with strong connections with others is highly valuable. The benefits are two fold - One, such mentors make an effort to stay updated. What used to work 10 years from now may not be viable today. Mentors with an outreach and a willingness to learn brings the latest knowledge to the table. Two, such a mentor has the potential to open multiple doors for you. The mentor could leverage his connections to bring in extended network effects that can provide you with early customer trials, strategic engagements, potential customers or interested investors.
  • Visionary: The essence of education and work these days is finding creative solutions to current problems and looking beyond the daily buzz. A great mentor should help you find great solutions for the problems you face—research, analysis, funding, technology, market access or organisational culture. The mentor should help you look at technology trends and changing dynamics, help you build alternative revenue streams, and scale and solidify your position in the world. Also, as Cosette Gutierrez puts it -

If your mentors only tell you that you are awesome, it's time to find other mentors.
Walking alone is a brave and daring endeavor. But walking through life without a guide is like growing up in solitary - You may learn how to get the job done, but you will never know whether you are heading in the right direction, or what more could you be doing.
A beautiful experience was shared by Falgooni Mishra, who worked as a part of a volunteer mentor initiative, and it is about her extraordinary journey with her mentee. She goes on to say that during the time she was helping her mentee become a confident and independent individual, it gave her chance to come to terms with her own self and her own life. That is game changing. As Samuel Smiles says -
Alexander the Great valued learning so highly, that he used to say he was more indebted to Aristotle for giving him knowledge than to his father Philip for life.

Sure, some argue that mistakes have been their greatest mentors in life. These would be the same people who still go the distance to see for themselves, when you already told them on the way the bridge ahead has collapsed. Why would you want to re-invent the wheel? Learning from one's own experiences is great, but imagine what all you could achieve if you could be the Eagle Eye, knowing where others faltered so that you could just skip ahead.
What you want in a mentor is someone who truly cares for you and who will look after your interests and not just their own. Someone who can believe in you more than you do yourself. Someone who understands your capabilities and potentials which you are yet to discover yourself. When you do come across the right person to mentor you, start by showing them that the time they spend with you is worthwhile. If your are yet to find such a mentor, do reach out.


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