Category Archives: Mentoring

What would you advise young engineers about to enter the workforce?

Last Sunday, we had annual alumni dinner of Bangalore chapter of my alma mater, JK Institute of Applied Physics and Technology. During this event, we also hosted final-year engineering students who were in town on an education tour. I was asked to make a presentation to them on a topic of my choice. Here is what I did – I put together ten things that I felt are the most important non-technical things that anyone graduating from campus to corporate should know – that no one will ever teach them! I am sharing them here. It’s possible your Top Ten list might be different than mine, but feel free to share other things that might be helpful to the young engineers entering workforce in 2010:

1. Ethics

  • Most of us relate to ethics only when it comes to money. However, ethics is a critical issue in every walk of work and life. My favorite definition of ethics is – ethics is doing the right thing even when you know that if you were to do the wrong thing, no one would come to know. Ethics applies to each one of us in every possible small and big thing.
  • Invest in long-term gains, not short-term benefits

2. Respect

  • Two-way street: give respect to get respect
  • Disagreement is not disrespect. This is especially relevant in a hierarchical society like ours that values compliance, especially with what elders / seniors tell us. However, at workplace, we deal with a much more democratic environment, and hence we must learn to distinguish between the two.
  • Respect for all – including self-respect
  • Doesn’t mean Sir / Ma’am anyone – respect is much beyond pleasantries, but also learn to respect with informality

3. Initiative

  • Five-level model of initiative
  • Take sensible Risks, make mistakes – learn from them and move on

4. Teamwork

  • Perhaps the most important change for new engineers – from an individual performance system in academics, the shift happens to a team-based performance where project success depends on team performance, and individual performance is often measured relative to other’s performance
  • Best way to improve teamwork is to help without being asked or expected
  • Leave ego at home – problems are solved by democratic methods

5. Hard Work and perseverance

  • To make a century, you have to stay at the crease for many hours. Similarly, overnight success comes after 15 years of hard work. Malcolm Gladwell talks of 10,000 hours to success – no short cuts
  • Work comes first, company’s brand and money comes much later – choose your employer for the kind of work you get and not the money.
  • Best job security: give more than what you are paid

6. Communication Skills

  • Learn to Listen
  • Learn to speak and make presentations – with / without Powerpoint
  • Watch your language – develop a language that helps you win friends and allows your ideas to be shared effortlessly
  • Learn email etiquettes

7. Learn to learn

  • Make sure you are always learning new things – the rate at which technology advances, whatever you have learnt will be history in just a few years!
  • Read, Read, Read
  • Develop curiosity – Five Whys: better be branded a stupid than live in ignorance
  • Volunteer for anything that you can learn from

8. Network, Network, Network

  • LinkedIn, Twitter, Blog
  • Industry seminars, workshops, IEEE, ACM, etc.
  • Develop personal and professional relations with like-minded people

9. Self-management / Professionalism

  • Time management
  • Commitment management
  • Invest in improving yourself always – you are only as good as your last work!
  • Set your goals – and follow them relentlessly

10. Work-life Balance

  • Develop hobbies as source of motivation, ideas from other walks of life, friends & refresh
  • Take vacations!

What would you advise young engineers about to enter the workforce?

How Mentoring can help Leaders too?

Last month, I sat through an interesting talk by two very senior business professionals, Ajit Chakravarti and Govind Mirchandani. The talk was organized by the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC), and you can read speaker profiles here. I found their talk particularly interesting because they did not talk any theory, and did not use any complex jargon or bulky models to explain their ideas.

They talked about how and why leadership also requires to be mentored, and how a mentor makes the difference. They used the analogy of Krishna as a mentor to Arjun in the Kurushetra battlefield. Arjun is torn by the value conflict – should he fight and kill his own kith and kin for the sake of getting his kingdom back? He doesn’t require training for the war, nor does he require any coaching for the battle – the fact that he is out there in the battlefield, all decked up means he is fully trained and ready to fight the war. What he needs is someone whom he trusts for his knowledge and his unflinching trust and support for him who can listen to him, clarify the value conflict (which, more often than not, is not between right vs wrong, but between ‘right’ and ‘right’  two equally competing options that are both the right thing to do individually, but when tested against each other, put one’s value system to extreme test), ask questions, show him the mirror – so that Arjun can take the correct decision. In their view, Krishna fills that role as a mentor, and they extrapolate the following traits of a mentor from how Krishna goes on to help Arjun:

  • Respected leader, inspires, and Role model
  • Willing to share
  • Is trustworthy
  • Prime importance: mentee’s development & growth
  • Guides, supports, counsels
  • Helps create value and realise vision

I think it sums up what makes a mentor quite well. It is not important for a mentor to be knowledgeable alone – he needs to have a legitimate interest in mentee’s development and growth. I especially like the reminder that a mentor should be willing to share – many ‘experts’ out there take pride in their knowledge but are unwilling (insecure ?) to share that knowledge. In today’s flat world, power is indeed with the one who has the knowledge and is willing to share with others for everyone’s good.

So, how does a mentor do all these things? In their view, a mentor hones intrinsic qualities, thinking, emotional intelligence, attitudes, behaviors, habits and mentee’s personality and character. He does this by holding a mirror for the mentees to check their values and alter the behavior, as deemded fit by the mentees themselves.

One question eventually comes to mind is whether a mentor is a coach, or someone else? They make a distinction between a coach and a mentor:

 



Coach

Mentor

Domain expertise/skill

Holistic development

Akin to teaching

Unearthing potential

One to many

One on One

Open

Confidential

Across organisational levels

Senior leadership only

It is not difficult to see that mentoring (at least the way these two speakers define) is quite different from coaching. The aspect of confidentiality and one-on-one is quite different from coaching, and mentoring is all about opening up layers of potential that perhaps the mentee (or even the mentor) might simply not be aware of. They limit the mentoring to senior leadership, though I am not sure I agree with it. I think everyone needs a mentor.

They talked about their mentoring process and I found one interesting step in it – immersion:

  

 Mentoring Landscape 

 

 

They define immersion as the state where there is complete experential bliss in the process of learning – and metaphorically compare it with an ace swimmer really ‘immersed’ under water, blissfully enjoying the depths of his ‘environment’ and learning in the process. In their view, immersion is not really a mentee’s submission to the mentor but a necessary step towards building the complete trust where a mentee is able to explore inner depths of his character, mind or potential under complete trust for the mentor. I think this ability to ‘immerse’ a mentee might be the finesse that makes great mentors stand apart from the crowd of hundreds of so-called mentors. Of course, such two-way trust might never develop overnight, and can’t happen without having a mentor of impeccable credentials and a mentee’s complete and unconditional belief in his mentor’s abilities and intent. However, I am interested in ‘immersion’ as an idea whether that happens under supervision or not. I think the whole idea of someone soaking it up, being immersed in the experience, taking own sweet time to internalize the learning is a great idea as opposed to a canned presentation that expects cookie-cutter solutions.

It was a good exchange of ideas, and something that gave me new ideas, especially the concept of immersion, to think more about.