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:




Domain expertise/skill

Holistic development

Akin to teaching

Unearthing potential

One to many

One on One



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.

27 thoughts on “How Mentoring can help Leaders too?

  1. konica

    The everyone eternally makes the assumption that the baring of an slip is duplicate with the conception of accuracy – that the error and truth are plainly opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the faction turns to, when it is cured on one literal, is almost always simply another fluff, and perhaps united worse than the senior one.

  2. Ajit Chakravarti

    Hi Ravishankar, Tathagat and all,
    I would be happy to connect with yourselves as I strongly believe that unleashing our potential is a lifelong challenge each of us have to unravel.How to create immersion and unbounded learning is the question which we need to find an answer to!

  3. Ravishankar

    Dear Tathagat:
    This is a beautiful summary of what must have been an inspiring session by Mr. Chakravarti and Mr. Mirchandani. Your categorization of differences between a mentor and coach is very good. Just yesterday we were discussing this very topic – how a coach is someone who teaches a protege techniques and proven methods how to kick the ball and score a goal while a mentor on the other hand helps unleash the inherent strengths and talents of the protege, and helps the protege develop his or her own style to kick the ball and score the goal.
    I am part of a passionate team that is doing a lot of work in this area, and I would love to connect with you and the two wonderful speakers you wrote about. I am based in Silicon Valley but am at present in Bangalore and my contact email is tpacademy at gmail
    Great summary, once again.

  4. ajit chakravarti

    Another important aspect of Mentoring, which is also quite explicitly mentioned in Arjuna-Krishna interaction is the choice-consequence equation.In every aspect of our lives we make choices without examining the corresponding consequences.What we do examine are the expected outcomes or the results of the choices.We carry with us the responsibility of the consequence arising from the choices we make in life.Mentoring has a significant role in highlighting this aspect.

  5. sd a104

    On Arjuna’s conflict, there is, I believe another view that, Krishna offers more of a Hobson’s choice to Arjun (Karma, focus not on fruits, etc.). Taking this perspective further, it only highlights the mentor’s gentle nudging a mentee to choose against a reality backdrop painted by him. Imagine the consequences of Arjun defying his Karma (had he not been guided by Lord Krishna) and laying down his weapons on humanitarian grounds. Would that have led to discovery of a different leadership? As mentioned by TV…immersion in a pool of trust, it might be pertinent for mentors to say as much and leave a lot unsaid, to avoid stifling/conditioning the mentee’s thought process. As long as immersion is not about providing swimming lanes that point to specific solutions, it is good from a communication and relationship perspective. Apologies for stretching the analogy to modern times, where man is less of a slave of Molloch and tending to a ‘cogito ergo sum’ behaviour.

  6. TV Post author

    @Ajit: I am on vacation until 3-Oct. Will surely share my understanding on the ‘unbounded learning’. Meanwhile, pl feel free to share the blog, or if you have an article / extension on this, I will be happy to include it here.

  7. Harish Jagtiani

    As I missed the presentation last month, this is an excellent summing up about mentoring. Krishna-Arjun analogy makes sense too. Best wishes,

  8. ajit chakravarti

    The description of the session is comprehensive and lively.My response to Tathagat’s doubt about “why Mentoring at senior levels”is that training at leadership positions has a far diminished role whereas it is through Mentoring that the leader discovers insights some of which may be embedded in his/her self.
    The other important ingredient for Mentoring in addition to immersion(so well described by Tathagat) is “unbounded Learning.I’ll be happy to read Tathagat’s take on that.

  9. Soumitra Bhattacharyya

    This is a very insightful reading. I was also reading “How Ramodorai groomed his successor” at TCS. To lead a company like TCS with 1.5 lakh employee requires enormous talent at that level. Mr Chandrasekharan has been mentored personally by current TCS CEO for over a decade. Besides his talent , Chandra has been lucky to have a mentor like him

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