We all feel the need of having someone to reach out to for advice at some point or the other in our lives —whether it is to decide what career paths to take, to deal with personal life issues, or simply to get a reinforcement that we are on the right track.
Most often, we tend to find people who can provide an independent unbiased view of the situation. Someone who might have experienced life in much greater depths than ours and someone who we look up to. They seem to have more information and knowledge than us. However, in recent times, the relationships between mentor and mentee has changed dramatically. One might remember stories from the ancient texts where the mentor had absolute authority over the mentee’s life. Dronacharya asking for Eklavya’s thumb as part of his guru-dakshina is well known. Even until recently, families in India have had spiritual gurus to whom they would reach out to in times of family crises and whose advice was considered sacrosanct. People were fine with the idea of someone else — a person of trust — taking charge of their life.
With the rise of millennials, things seem to have changed though. These are the people born roughly after 1980 and somehow they have ended up with a notoriously bad reputation. Many people argue that millennials are extremely demanding, have high expectations from themselves and from others, have a sense of entitlement, are lazy and cannot maintain long durations of focus and persistence. They need quick fixes and much variety in their activities. With the pace of the world around them and the constant need to display an image through social media, the lines of their professional and personal lives have gotten blurred. At the same time, they value freedom and autonomy. The ability to make their own decisions — even if they end up in failures — has become extremely important.
As a result, the demands of the younger generation today seem to have changed towards the kind of mentorship they expect. I frequently come across stories from people in my classrooms about how, as college students, they went against their parents’ advice to move to different countries, start new companies, or get into relationships — all of which ended up disasters. The mentorship demands from the newer generations seems to be contradictory. On the one hand, millennials love feedback – they need constant reinforcement and appreciation on how they are doing. On the other hand, they love their freedom and do not like constant monitoring.
Several new forms of mentorship have emerged that seem to be in line with the changing needs. For example, anonymous mentoring. There are online platforms available where both the mentor and mentee remain anonymous to each other, matches are made depending on psychological needs and profiles, and interactions involve online exchange of issues and suggestions. Companies are also experimenting with micro feedback mentoring through which quick, small, informal, and multiple feedback channels are provided to the mentee. And then there is reverse mentoring. Given how tech-savy the young generation is, many millennials have already taken over the role of mentoring the more senior members in their companies.
Mentoring has now become a two-way process where the two people involved can assume both the roles of mentor and mentee towards each other. This also means that mentors’ expectations need to change from having their advice adhered to at all cost to being just an opinion-generator. People now have access to wider community to meet their mentorship needs. Many of us end up having a diversified set of mentors — for personal life, professional demands, or even spiritual questions. Therefore, a shift in mentor’s mindset is also needed — to acknowledge that one’s advice is probably one in many that the mentee has received and to be open to the idea that it might not be followed.
With such fast-paced lives where all relationships are getting more fragile, having someone you can trust is essential. Someone who can encourage you and also make course corrections in your life trajectory. Someone who can act as a sounding board to bounce off ideas with. There is no replacement to having a face-to-face interaction with someone who is actively interested in your growth and development. Do you have such people in your lives?
(Dr Kriti Jain is a faculty member at IE Business School, Spain and an EU Marie Curie Research Fellow)