Q&A on mentoring with Shahzad Ali
1. What is 'mentoring' in your view?
Mentoring is about having someone help you both identify where you want to go and working with you on how to get there, not by telling you what to do but by supporting and challenging you in equal measure. A mentor should bring about growth in the mentee and I believe that growth can be found at the intersection between support and challenge.
2. What difference does mentoring make to a mentee's career?
Firstly, I believe that people have ‘careers’, ‘a job’ or ‘a calling’. People do a job to make money. They have a career in order to excel in a field of work, in order to get a better job and more money. A calling on the other hand, is what you have when you realise you are following your passion – when you’re immersed in what you’re doing and applying all your strengths to it because you love it.
A mentor can help a mentee find their calling and connect them to their flow state. It may be that the mentee’s current job or career is in fact their calling, but you as the mentor have to work with them to identify this. A mentor helps create a point of alignment for a mentee around which to centre them and their calling (“career”).
3. How does it benefit the mentor?
A mentoring partnership is a two way contract. It is not one person transmitting and the other person listening, but instead an equal learning by both. It is also an opportunity for the mentor to earn about a new person and possibly new interest or sector. People often presume mentors are older than their mentee, but this is not always the case. Everyone has different strengths and often mentees can help their mentors in a different and unrelated way.
Being a mentor gives one great energy and opportunity to grow as a person. You are giving back to others and through this Socratic Method (the form of inquiry and discussion, based on Socrates’ asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas), learning more about yourself through teaching.
4. What makes an effective mentor? Can anyone be a good mentor?
There are four things which I believe every mentor should possess. Firstly, intention: every mentor should assess what their intentions are to begin with, as this will determine whether or not a positive sponsorship is likely.
Secondly, a mentor’s require a lot of self-awareness. We all have our biases and a mentor should leave their preconceived ideas at the door. This is an exploratory journey between two people.
Thirdly, a mentor must be both passionate and compassionate about the person they’re mentoring; you have to meet the mentee in their model of the world. In Hindu tradition there is Sanskrit word called ‘upaya’, which translates to ‘start from where the learner is’.
Lastly, there is no doubt that patience is required. As a mentor, there is a great desire to fix everything for your mentee right away and to remove any suffering or hardship that they may face. However suffering brings endurance and endurance brings character. Sometimes you have to be okay with your mentee making a mistake and allow them to learn from it.
5. How can mentoring combat diversity issues?
With regards to gender diversity, I believe that mentoring plays a very necessary part for women in the world of work, as they have to be much more strategic and driven in order to align their ambitions with success.
However, I would argue that mentoring combats diversity issues of the mind more than anything. A good mentor will ask questions that often lead to a different or varied state of thinking from the norm.
For example, if you ask most people, “can you fly a plane?” they tell you “No”. But that is incorrect – you can fly a plane, you just haven’t been taught how to yet.