The purpose of mentoring is to tap into the existing knowledge and experience of the mentor by the mentee in order to advance their professional careers or to achieve a healthy work-life balance. For the mentee, mentoring can help develop new skills, reflect on and have an example to look up to. For the mentor, it serves to give back by developing next generation leaders and get energized in their own career development. Research shows that mentored individuals are more satisfied and committed to their professions than non-mentored individuals.
George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Progress depends on our ability to change. Mentorship can bring that element of change by emphasizing on learning, thinking and sometimes rethinking.
The world is more complex than it used to be. Pandemics such as COVID-19 is testing the limits of empathy and changing our psychology. It is even more important to take a step back and focus on the following tenets to find an effective way of mentoring during these times.
One of the biggest enemies of learning or rethinking is bias. A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and affects the decisions that we collectively make. Biases often work as rules of thumb that help us make sense of the world and reach decisions with relative speed. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur due to a lack of self-awareness that prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills. It is important to focus on competency and avoid getting into an armchair quarterback syndrome – someone who offers his or her opinion on something without being a part of it – where confidence exceeds competency. The less intelligent we are in a particular domain, the more we seem to overestimate our actual intelligence. Personal egos will overestimate the skills or competency and become a roadblock towards learning or rethinking.
Michael Jordan is a global brand, and his name is synonymous to the term role model. He was able to detach from outcomes and unlocked the value of failing multiple times as he once said “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” One of his strengths was he was able to detach present from his past, and opinion from identity. Michael Jordan was not born with the raw talent of a champion; he molded his character into one with continuous learning. People with open mindset believe that their abilities can be developed with continuous learning, of which failures and mistakes are a part of.
In the spirit of mentoring or influencing, we might feel that admitting we were wrong will damage our reputation. In fact, admitting we were wrong does not make us less competent. It reflects honesty and willingness to learn. Mentorship is a learning activity and the emphasis for mentorship should be on learning and not the outcome. Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever” sums up the power of lifelong learning.
Amy C. Edmondson, professor at Harvard Business School, first identified the concept of psychological safety in work teams in 1999. A psychologically safe environment begins with a feeling of belonging. Edmondson mentions that psychological safety is not a matter of relaxing standards, making people comfortable, nice and agreeable. Psychological safety is a shared belief held by members of a team without embarrassing or rejecting ideas. Mentors and mentees should take a leaf from this book fostering a climate of respect, trust and openness.
All views expressed on this site are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now or will be affiliated.
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Mentor Connect is a flagship program where a structured environment for Mentorship is provided to TiEcon attendees – https://www.tiecon.org/mentor-connect.
Author: Venkat Eswara
Global Leader Empowering Transformative Outcomes; Startup Advisor; Northwestern University Alumni Admission Council Member