Few months back, I was invited by an institution to speak with their class of communication on what to do in the early years of their career. At the end of the talk, one of the students asked a very pertinent question: How should one choose a mentor? This piece encapsulates my response.
Once upon a time!
The jungle was tired of being ruled by the lion family. Their top media house too has been writing scathing pieces on why the family deserves to step aside and give opportunity. The human world had been following a new ideology and style of governance called democracy! Hence, due to public pressure it was finally decided that the jungle will witness its first elections. The challenge however was: who will stand up against the Lion King? After much deliberations, the monkey stood up and said, I will deliver justice!
With an overwhelming support, the Monkey won and was crowned the new king of the jungle. Few days later, a deer was grazing through the forest with her fawn. A pack of hungry hyena attacked them and took away her child.
She ran to the lion in a reflex action but stopped mid-way to realize that they have a new king. She ran to the monkey who was sitting atop a tree. “Highness…please, help me… my fawn. They took him,” she said as she gasped for breath.
Listening to this, the monkey got very angry. He screamed, howled and started thumping his chest in rage. Then he jumped from one branch of the tree to another. He looked to his left, then sharply to right. He was in rage!
The deer was dumbfounded, and inconsolable though she was, she asked, “Highness, what are you doing? My fawn was taken by pack of hyenas. By now they would have hurt him.”
The Monkey King responded, “Yes, I am aware of that. But see, you can’t complain that I didn’t make any efforts or was not emotionally involved in your issue.”
Most successful professionals believe there is no end to learning and upskilling. For communication professionals, at least the initial few years should be “investment” in perfecting the basics and learning from their mentors. You may choose to learn from multiple mentors and leaders – and even your co-workers and industry acquaints. Still, here is a checklist of 4As, I follow while choosing a mentor:
There is a saying that one should not confuse a map with the terrain. What a leader says is important but more important is to see what they deliver. A leader must not just be great at communication, but also results. If you find the behavior of your leader is not in sync with his message then it’s time to hunt for a new one.
In today’s time, lacking in any of these three parameters is a definite sign that you need to look for an alternative mentor. How a leader behaves in times of turmoil or crisis is a sign to understand the true style of his leadership. Moral and ethical decision making have always formed a critical part of leadership. However, authenticity and empathy too are important. These are few of the soft-skills which have long been ignored but found merit especially during the last few challenging years for any organisation.
Find a leader who does not exhibit an inertia to learn and improve. Some of the best leaders believe that the growth curve never stops. As the ecosystem evolves, so do the challenges. A good mentor will always be open to learn new skills and even encourage you to keep on upskilling to be a better professional.
Agrees to disagree
Good mentors do not always agree with you. As much as compatibility is an important determinant of how much you can learn, disagreements make you learn much more. Disagreements may teach you to reassess your perspective on a matter or even give you a renewed belief in your thoughts. It clearly depends on how much you want to absorb from it. The only caveat that I give is that in any discussion agree to disagree – it’s a healthier and open way to accepting ideas which sometimes may be contrarian to your perspective.
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