Sunday 22 September 2013

Do you have a sounding board at work? Find a mentor ... listen carefully … manage your emotions … unclutter your thinking …

I am an emotional individual (which in simple terms is a person subject to strong states of emotion) and hence someone who never managed and most likely will never master the ability to take other people’s money over a game of chance where a stone-faced demeanor (‘poker face’) would be beyond my abilities to maintain or attempt!

“Lacking a shared language, emotions are perhaps our most effective means of cross-species communication. We can share our emotions, we can understand the language of feelings, and that's why we form deep and enduring social bonds with many other beings. Emotions are the glue that binds” - Marc Bekoff (The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy - and Why They Matter).

Emotions may be the 'glue that binds’ but in the work context one needs to work on managing one's reaction or response to a situation or challenge as work colleagues will be less forgiving of you than your family or social contacts!

My style of functioning is geared towards ‘imbibing’ from others i.e. I am keen and ready to take guidance and input from ‘others’ who matter to tame my emotional continence. Very early in my career I realised that I had to gain access to these ‘others’ i.e. mentors to open both mind and heart (on occasion); to have them hear me out and then guide me in the sense making (which was impacted due to my emotional nature) needed to formulate an understanding of the situation and the response to the same. 

There are many reasons for why people need mentors and my rationale for suggesting finding a mentor is simply because they can be role models as they have been through a corporate journey that you might be admiring or keen to follow. They can share nuggets of wisdom from their own corporate journey but more importantly help you in providing the necessary emotional maturity to understand a challenge and how to handle the same. For me my mentors have been gold-mines over the course of my career and I have consulted them on issues such as career options for myself; how to manage an issue with my manager; behavioural adjustment in coping with an issue at work etc.

I am intentionally not using the term ‘coach’ as I am ensuring that there is a differentiation between 'coach' and 'mentor'. Both are geared towards developmental discussions that aim to provide individuals with feedback on strengths and weaknesses with the intent to give guidance and advice on specific issues BUT the key difference is that mentoring can last longer than coaching; the mentor is usually more experienced and qualified than the ‘mentee’ (the person receiving the mentoring) i.e. a “senior person in the organisation who can pass on knowledge, experience and open doors to otherwise out-of-reach opportunities” and ultimately mentoring is more specific to job oriented skills and discussions whereas coaching would typically be around development areas/issues that need not be job oriented or job based.

Your selection and identification of a mentor is not a one way road. There are not many who are courageous enough to approach potential mentors, who typically are senior in age and experience but I have also seen peers as mentors. 

If you have identified yourself to the organisation as talent worth nurturing and are genuinely interested in professional growth (while contributing to your organisation) then you are more likely to attract a mentor. This is a critical reality as there is an investment of time on the part of the mentor. 

Another key variable is the personal connect that you need to have or develop with a mentor. It is not providence or chance that my mentors have all been individuals that I had the highest personal regard for but also connected with me at a very basic, personal and honest level! I deliberately developed relationships and then ensured that my mentor selection was based on this personal connect. Please note that personal connect means that honesty is both expected and given. This means that you are able to open up sufficiently enough to state your mind and that the mentor in return gives constructive guidance, feedback and also disagrees as needed. I must caution that a many times the input received by me from my mentor(s) has managed to upset me, leave me disappointed and even dejected. Nevertheless, when I thought about it dispassionately (usually post facto) I realised that it was the right advice. Despite your personal angst you need to take this bitter medicine. A good mentor will not ‘sugar coat’ and will be constructively honest and if the discussion is revealing then it can lead to tremendous emotional clarity and life-long learning.

I wanted to share advice from Steven Berglas who outlines that having a mentor is useful as “It’s hard to develop Emotional Quotient by reading a book.” This is a profound point. Listening to a mentor, watching a mentor, getting advice that is grounded in fact but also acknowledges how one can channel emotions to resolve issues and resolve dilemmas can be meaningful! Another point that Steven makes is that “Mentors know what it takes to succeed: Professionally.” I can vouch for that.

So open yourself up and find a mentor who can help you make sense of the muddle in your mind. I am always surprised to see people at work telling me that they have no need for advice from others as their issues are unique and have an over-inflated opinion of themselves. I have gone through such thoughts and can assure you that there is not one person on this planet that can figure out things by themselves or get to the top of an organisation without a sounding board to guide him or her. There are many good resources on how to identify a mentor and how to develop a successful mentoring partnership. Go ahead and do some research. You can create a very informal or formal relationship dependent on what you want out of the relationship. My goal was to offer insight into this and share my perspective. Hope I have done so. Good luck with finding and leveraging your ‘sounding board’ at work!

“When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become--whether lawyer, scientist, artist, or leader in any realm--her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, 'Yes, someone like me can do this” - Sonia Sotomayor.


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