A substantial part of my 25-year professional career has been with Wall Street firms. The model these firms have generally followed is to hire bright people and get them to hit the road running. Some technical training was available but little if anything was on offer to develop soft skills and nurture employee growth. The culture was to sink or swim. I swam against this for my entire career because I had had an excellent organizational behaviour (OB) professor in business school who carefully coached us students into believing that people were the most valuable asset for a modern firm. I consciously adopted these principles very early in my career and vowed to learn, listen and nurture as best I could.

Winston Churchill, the former British prime minister, once said: “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give." In the people context, there are many ways of giving. Mentoring is one excellent way. It gives of your time and experience to others and that helps them to dream, deliver or navigate. Sometimes, mentoring can be powerful enough to reset that potential dramatically upwards.

Mentoring can be done in different ways. One model is to engage with your mentee at a transactional level. I prefer the light-touch version. By making gentle suggestions at the right moments, the idea is to encourage your colleagues to think bigger, let go, take risks or simply pick themselves up in difficult circumstances. The magic of mentoring is that it not only helps the mentee but it also aids the mentor. I have little hesitation in saying that I have gained greatly from various mentoring relationships. The very construct of these relationships requires you to be in a learning mode all your life. Subliminally, you are organizing your experiences as they happen into nuggets and lessons to be shared. In this way you are challenged and self-aware on a continual basis.

Your interactions with your colleague can be about specific work-related issues, tricky people situations or alternative strategic paths. But it needn’t be just that. A young trader and I regularly share book lists and exchange notes about what we learnt from certain books. I am able to share nuggets of my experience and thoughts simply by this exchange. In return, I get her to open up on her perspective in a non-threatening workplace context.

Strictly speaking, a mentoring relationship does not even have to be one-on-one, it can be done with a small group. During the financial crisis years of 2008-09 I had regular conversations with small groups. One purpose was to communicate the latest and put their minds at ease but a larger purpose was to impart the idea to future leaders that communication in times of business stress can be a great healer.

So reach out and become a mentor this New Year. It will enrich your life and that of a colleague.

Narayan Ramachandran is the former country head of Morgan Stanley in India. He is currently chairman of Inklude Labs, which deworms millions of schoolchildren in India.

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