Mentoring isn’t all about taking any odd trainee and drumming your ideas into them. It starts with knowing whom to select, having an open mind, and leading by example. K.V. Kamath, non-executive chairman, ICICI Bank and Infosys Ltd, who has mentored a series of executives in the corporate world, gives us a little toolkit on the mentorship process. Edited excerpts:

How do you mentor a bright young trainee to be a CEO?

You start at the very beginning by getting the right talent into an organization. To make sure that you get the right talent, you must have an open mind, particularly with regard to gender, using merit as a key to get talent in.

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K.V. Kamath, the non-executive chairman of ICICI Bank talks about mentoring a new generation of leaders

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Thereafter as you go on you make sure you build a meritocracy—this is more difficult than getting the right talent in. It is there you have stereotypes which come into play—you need to exert influence to get these sorts of thoughts out of the organizational mind. Luckily, at ICICI we had leaders who were very comfortable dealing with both genders.

How do you go about the process of mentoring?

The individual is given a mentoring task without being labelled as such. This task gives the mentee an opportunity to use skills in his or her way. As a mentor you supply gentle course corrections—I say “gentle" but if you ask my mentees they will probably say harsh. Lots of times people forget sufficient time has been given, resources have been given, and people have been encouraged. The phrase “shock and awe" has some merit, you need to do that and then the learning becomes quicker.

Do you see yourself as an exceptional mentor? Or do you feel this is something every CEO should do?

It is nothing extraordinary; it is something not just every CEO, but every leader in an organization should do.

Grooming leaders: Kamath says mentors should provide ‘gentle’ course corrections. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

How much interaction do you think is necessary for a mentoring relationship?

In a lot of cases it is not necessary to get feedback on a daily basis. Once or twice a quarter or once a quarter is more than enough. In the context of banking I don’t think interacting after hours is a requirement.

You have joined Infosys at a particularly difficult phase in the company’s history. Has your mentorship experience at Infosys been different from that at ICICI ?

Leadership mentoring ought not to be different in different organizations. But a chair really doesn’t mentor—the chair is there providing a shoulder. And of course looking after governance aspects; that is the role I would look at. As far as Infosys goes they had a great mentor in Narayana Murthy.

Challenges in the business context happen in any business, particularly when there is a mass shift in technology. So my role as I see is to lend a shoulder as necessary; to see that governance is on an even keel.

With your talents in business, and your people skills, do you see a role for yourself in government?

At this moment, honestly no plans to join government.

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