What the Best Mentors Do?


I was recently invited to speak on, “What best mentors do?” to a group of mentors / facilitators from Argentina who had come for a training program at School of Social Entrepreneurship India. 

The session was organized at the scenic Zorba The Buddha, which is an oasis in itself in the Delhi NCR region.

I divided my session into six parts viz.
  • Mentoring Styles
  • Understanding Expectations
  • Asking Powerful Questions
  • Deeper Engagement
  • Monitoring Mentee Performance
  • Pillars of Mentor Mentee Relationship
A) Mentoring styles

I began with a discussion on the five major mentoring styles:-

1) Challenger- The mentor pushes the mentee and asks hard questions.

2) Cheerleader- The mentor encourages and even in case of a mistake points out to the mentee the learning from the mistake

3) Educator- The mentor teaches/ trains the mentee after understanding the mentee’s deficiencies.

4) Ideator- The mentor encourages and pushes the mentee to ideate, dream and brainstorm.

5) Connector- The mentor helps the mentee in networking with the right people-online or offline.

B) Understanding each other’s expectations


The mentor and the mentee need to understand the expectations of each other and in case there is a misfit or misalignment, the mentor can be changed in the initial stage itself. In case one of them feels that the expectations are unrealistic, the same needs to be communicated immediately to redefine the expectations.

To measure and monitor the mentee performance, the mentor can use CAV approach (refer to point E)

C) Asking right questions in the right way


The mentor and mentee need to be matched properly keeping in mind the mentoring style of the mentor and learning style of the mentee.

The mentor asks powerful thought provoking questions to push the mentee to introspect, understand areas of personal development and the relevant actions required to overcome weaknesses.

D) Deeper engagement for a fulfilling partnership


Once rapport is established between the mentor and the mentee, the two need to find ways to deepen the engagement and make it even more mutually beneficial exercise.


This step requires deeper understanding of each other’s preferences, personalities, needs, motivations and emotions.

E) Monitoring Mentee Performance (CAV approach)


To measure the performance of the mentee, CAV approach (Challenges, Actions and Victories) can be used. In the CAV process, the challenges/ goals are defined, actions are planned and milestones of progress (victory) are set by the mentee in consultation with the mentor.

The exercise helps in deepening the engagement also as the mentor identifies the weaknesses and deficiencies. The mentee contributes to the exercise by explaining the support required from the mentor to overcome weaknesses and deficiencies.


F) Four Pillars of Mentor –Mentee Relationship

Trust- The mentee needs to trust the mentor with the back story, personal issues which impact professional life etc.

Perspective- Both mentor and mentee need to understand, respect and appreciate each other’s perspective.

Observation- The mentor and mentee need to observe each other keenly to deepen the understanding of each other. The mentee can use this understanding to get the best out of the mentor by creating synergies or a mutually beneficial relationship.

Tough Love- Usually it is good to practice tough love (except when the mentee has a high level of self discipline / maturity). According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, tough love is love or affectionate concern expressed in a stern or unsentimental manner especially to promote responsible behavior.


Why Managing People is like Herding Cats- Conclusion



Warren Bennis has written a famous management book, “Managing People is like herding cats”. If we interpret the meaning it says, “Cats cannot be herded and people cannot be managed”. The uniqueness of each individual needs to be understood and appreciated and based on that a suitable leadership style has to be used.

The mentor needs to understand the uniqueness of the mentee, and accordingly decide an appropriate style, tools and approaches. The mentor can also change the style depending upon the situation. 

I noted "Sometimes you will stumble upon a mentee wiser than you.
Give them the respect and appreciation that is their due" and concluded with a story:-

There was once a pair of acrobats. The teacher was a poor man and the student was a young girl by the name of Meda. These acrobats performed each day on the streets in order to earn enough to eat.

Their act consisted of the teacher balancing a tall bamboo pole on his head while the little girl climbed slowly to the top. Once to the top, she remained there while the teacher walked along the ground.

Both performers had to maintain complete focus and balance in order to prevent any injury from occurring and to complete the performance. One day, the teacher said to the pupil:

'Listen Meda, I will watch you and you watch me, so that we can help each other maintain concentration and balance and prevent an accident. Then we'll surely earn enough to eat.'

But the little girl was wise, she answered, 'Dear master, I think it would be better for each of us to watch ourself. To look after oneself means to look after both of us. That way I am sure we will avoid any accidents and earn enough to eat.'

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