When you transition into a senior executive role, a new set of challenges will arise. You’ll probably face a whole mash of familial responsibilities, personal fulfillment in addition to financial growth and stability, like me. Guidance becomes harder to find and expectations continue to grow. Books and articles can give you only so much, leaving a vacuum. This is a snippet of the early days of how I realised the importance of a Mentor.
I was going through some major transitions in life. Recently married, a completely new career, financial responsibilities and being hit by the realities of aging parents, I felt unprepared. I thought I had done well so far, with the right B-school and career path but now, stepping into my 30’s, I was unsure and didn’t know how or whom to turn to for advice.
Enter the Mentor
A multi-award winning short filmmaker, a publisher of comic books, successful entrepreneur, Ranji Trophy cricketer, an involved father of two and a global leader of a $100 billion dollar company are things that most people would struggle to do. However, Souvik Banerjee (fondly known as Dada ie, Big Brother) achieved all the above well before 40 and somehow has time to catch up with me every week for beers.
“Think of yourself as the CEO of your life”, Souvik Dada told me. “It makes understanding conflicts easier”. I found this perspective incredibly helpful, thinking of your own life as an organization and the different aspects of it as different teams. Everything wants to head towards the same goal, but it takes continuous work to keep teams motivated and aligned.
Keeping this parallel in mind, here are something I realised over many beers with my Dada.
5 Things My Mentor taught me:
1. Internal tension between leaders can lead to honest conversations:
The different teams within a company often fight for limited resources. A good mentor helps bring out the tension within these ‘team leaders’ and drives an honest dialogue on the organization’s true priorities.
Health, ambition, family, fun often find themselves fighting for limited time and mind space in my life.
By discussing different scenarios honestly with Dada’s help, I was able to realise my own true priorities and hence align my overall goals.
2. External and Objective Advice
While going through difficult times and change, the mentor plays the role of a bounce-board, able to return the CEO’s thoughts with clarity by removing the noise from the rest of the organization.
That’s exactly what I needed when I had to choose between an extremely well paid MNC job or riskier Startup. Souvik Dada’s dispassionate reflection of my own thoughts effectively separated my fears and emotions, allowing greater confidence in my riskier decisions.
3. Tactical Advice
CEO’s tend to be visionaries and get caught up in the big picture a little too much. Similarly, we can get caught up with how we ideally want things to play out. My mentor helped me look at the day-to-day elements and applied his knowledge of the realities of working in a startup to help me make tactical choices.
4. Knowing when to bring in outside help:
This one is simple – external consultants can bring great value if used well. Sauvik Dada often helped me find the right people to go to for solutions or pitch a concept, helping polish complex business strategies.
5. Providing external validation:
By having trust in someone you respect and admire, a mentor’s validation is incredibly important. While sometimes brutal, their criticism is constructive. While we don’t see eye to eye on everything, Dada’s validation at the end of a challenge has provided me with immense confidence in my own decision-making ability and skills. A good mentor is never a ‘Yes’ man, but a touchstone of good decisions.
So, does everyone need a mentor?
These were a few of my learning from my mentor. Everyone is likely to have a different experience, but my personal belief is that as we try to do more for ourselves, support is always welcome. Especially as one begins to move towards Senior management and larger leadership roles, having a mentor, advisor, and friend who’s done it all before is invaluable.
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