Making of a mentor 2 – If Summers is here can winter be far behind?

(This is the 2nd article in the series, “Making of a mentor” where we are trying to figure out what it takes to be one, for our collective benefit. By “we”(and “us” and “our” which follow in the body later), I meant the not-so-successful-yet, middle-aged, PowerPoint-adept dwellers of the cubicles. Rest can read it as a source of amusement, or for future reference; but for us it is the only sliver of hope. For, mentorship is our ticket to rewards and recognition, which we otherwise couldn’t achieve on our own steam. It is our first, last and only refuge to retire honorably – with a farewell party thrown-in)

This is that time of the year, when many an organization has an air of expectation hanging heavily about it. Soon the cafeteria will be teeming with a swarm of pugnacious, smarter-than-thou, rag-tag coalition of rambunctious kids, half-way through their business management program (I too was one of them a long time ago; but now I have no recollection of what I came across as then).

Few of the lucky peers already know who they have drawn from the lots and strut about with a spring in their step whilst whistling a romantic number or fast-paced track from a recent blockbuster. A handful of us have a worn-down look about us, which is a shade or two lower than our usual worn-down look signaling our pathetic state of affairs.

The Summers (or Internship Program or Summer Placement) is here and the mercury has considerably dropped between those who were assigned one or two bright young minds to take care of the critical projects and others like us who have to babysit, play scrabble with or spend better part of our time Googling frantically the latest management mumbo-jumbo these kids keep spewing out.

“What’s the big deal”? You may query. Let me explain.

The mantle of mentorship doesn’t fall into our lap by default. Most of the organizations have in place a sickeningly well designed and elaborate Mentorship Program just to keep desperate wolves like us at bay. First we have to pass the litmus test of “past track record”. Next comes the “Well defined characteristics of a mentor” and our inadequacies are listed there with a few smileys scribbled against each by a scurrilous young HR executive.

The Summers program is one of the first hurdles placed in our path to becoming a mentor. The outcome of it gets into the “Past Track Record”. The feedback from those difficult and disgusting demons which besmirches your “Characteristics of a Mentor” can seal your fate for good. The organization may as well stamp “Monumental Failure and Not Fit 2BA Mentor” in our “Additional Remarks and Recommendations” section in the appraisal form.

A right summer trainee is the only independent variable in the equation that brings the bacon home for an aspiring mentor. He works as a booster rocket for the mentor’s prospects.

But then only successful executives have the enviable option of cherry picking hot candidates amongst the hordes of mentees clamoring for a guiding hand. Few of the wily peers who share juicy grapevine and salacious tidbits with HR too have potential winners served in a fancy e-mail and delivered to their desktop. For the rest of us quantity trumps quality.

Most of us have been at the receiving end once too often and have been assigned a platoon of poltergeists to chaperon. We are not sure whether:

  • to assign them a project and go about doing our work – Once you turn your back they are sticking straws in your hair Or
  • be at their back all the while to ensure they don’t go off your radar – Then deadlines whizz past you and the boss is giving you the mickey in the open.

We are at our wit’s end trying to figure out how to handle them, without losing our sanity and honor or scuttle our chances of becoming a mentor later. Worry no more, friends, for deliverance is at hand. The following story should sure warm your cockles


One day an Ignoramus saw Mullah Nasruddin (MN) riding a donkey, seated with his back to the ass’s head. While seated thus MN was reciting amusing tales to a boisterous boy brigade that was following him. Once in a while he would throw a riddle at them and come up with a couple of copper coins or a handful of dates from his shoulder bags, which he passed on to the kids.

It provided much amusement to the onlookers and was truly a mirth eliciting sight to behold. MN seemed to be oblivious to the merry repartees and snide remarks aimed at him and carried on with his task of herding the brood.

The Ignoramus was perplexed and asked MN why he was riding the donkey such

MN: “I am leading these mischievous and maturity-challenged lads to their destination. This way I can keep an eye on them all the way and ensure they stay the course.”

Ignoramus: “Why not ask them to walk in front of you?”

MN (with admonition and incredulity mixed tone): “How can you be so absurd!? I am their Leader”

Ignoramus: So?

MN: “How can a leader follow his followers?!”


Now I am looking for the equivalent of a donkey – a short time-bound project which amuses the ragtag and holds their attention while giving them enough ammunition to fill their summer report. Hopefully for all the relief and amusement it provides them, I may end up with a good score this time in the feedback and be well and truly on the path to becoming a mentor.

I am sure henceforth the Summers won’t lead to a winter of disappointment!


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Shirin Ara says:

    Hey Arun,

    Long time…N what a comeback article…Good one…

    When it comes to summer interns,am sure this is a dilemma faced by most of the mentors..As rightly stated by you, its difficult to decide which method to follow – Carrot or stick… But i guess, it would completely depend on the kind of person you dealing with…

    Good writing…. 🙂

    Keep it up!!!


    Shirin Ara

  2. Lavender says:

    Hey Vaks…After a long time I can see your teeth bared…hissing 🙂 Cool. try it. may be your winters will move to summers / springs later on and we, the following can follow suite to achieve the eternal springs

    I was wondering where the part 1 will lead to..enlightenment! Watson

    On a serious note, Meridith you have company. Attitudes have wrecked havoc on many a mentor program. We started one here recently and though people show interest, they are vary of opening up. Reason – insecurity and total lack of confidence in self. That might also be a question of authenticity.


  3. jayraj says:

    Much Awaited…Mate…Fantastic example of MN, thats exactly the strategy, mixing the assignment with some fun is the right way to get good feedbacks from trainees. Honestly, Arun, i dont think you need to worry about feedbacks, from what i presume you should be a Natural mentor. Really liked the way of putting across a message.

  4. Hi all:

    Years ago I started a mentor program at what was then the largest city transportation system in the world: New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It still my be the largest.

    For me, the single most important factor was the mentor’s willingness to spend time….either per week (the best) or per month (much less desirable).

    It was a volunteer program where both mentors and mentees would sign up…but even with the voluntary nature of things, people wouldn’t show up…..they got too busy, they didn’t like the person they were matched up with….all sorts of reasons.

    The next important factor in success is the willingness to open up – on both parts. If people are not authentic, and vulnerable ( my definition is willingness to open up and “be seen”, then the relationship won’t work. )

    To me, and to the program, everything else was/is secondary.

    I hope my perspective gives you something to think about and take action.


    Meredith Gardner, Ph.D.
    Mind-Bending Connectivity
    The Strategic Edge and Strategic CIO Solutions
    Phone: 212 769-9340

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