Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Will Self-discipline Often beat the Need of a Mentor ?

There was an inspiring story of Kenyan athlete-Julius Yego doing rounds recently. Julius recently won the gold medal in the athletic sport of Javelin (in 2015 World Championship). Winning a Gold medal is always special and culmination of lots of hard-work and dedication but what was unique about Julius's feat was that he did so after learning how to throw on YouTube.  Having a mentor or a coach after often talked about as key ingredient for success in leadership. Infact a lot of senior level folks that i know directly or have come across in my professional career so far have acknowledged the role mentors played in their success. 

Some organizations even invest in formal mentorship programs too. And if we talk of the sports scene, in my humble belief, the role of coaches are sometimes overrated but often justified. I say so because its the players who toil on the field whose spot decisions and related actions results in a win or a loss. The role of a coach is often behind the scenes and is considered crucial in the skill development as well the mental preparation of the athlete. The role of coach also matters in cultural context, as an example, in India there is even a National level award called as Dronacharya Award that honors the best coaches at an annual basis.

In such a context, the achievement of Julius Yego can be easily thought of as extraordinary and even out of world. To put things in perspective, he won nothing short of a gold medal that too in World championships, which can be considered the most important athletic event of the year- only probably a notch lower than Olympics in its importance.  Consider another fact that he won the Gold medal in Javelin competition, probably the first one from Kenya which is a country whose major sporting identity is known from the on-field exploits of long distance runners. One cannot resist the temptation of thinking that he is not just supremely talented at Javelin but also even greatly gifted at the skill of learning. Yes, i just called learning as a skill. Unless we think of something as a skill, we tend to not give it as much importance as it deserves. Coming to the point, does Julius' achievement makes us look at the future world with less need of mentors?

In favor of this question, i can site an example directly from my experience. I completed a full marathon (42.195 km) run distance twice last year. A lot of runners that i had come across over the years always had association with some sort of running group that helped them train, mentor them towards this arduous distance. Given my schedule and family responsibilities, it was never going to be possible for me to find time for the preparation for the marathon, which i to dearly wanted to do. Given the desire, i chose the next best option. I caught hold of a book from amazon that helped train the first time marathon runners, followed it by the word, pushed myself physically and mentally for around 4 months of training and eventually achieved the coveted distance not once but twice in a month. So i can safely say that i have had my Julius Yego like moment. Of course, there is a big difference there- i "just" completed the marathon whereas Julius achieved the pinnacle of the sporting achievement by winning the gold medal. This example points to the fact that the role of a mentor may not be all that important but i think that's just one point of view.

Rahul Dravid, a legendary Cricket player from India recently launched the "RD Athlete Mentorship" program, which aims at providing the much needed mentorship to deserving athletes. His idea of mentorship (atleast at the highest level that he played) is that a mentor provides a sounding board for an athlete to talk to. He thinks that the major role of a mentor is to listen to you and helps provide alternative perspectives around the problems a sportsperson may be facing. 

Coming to organizational world of today, which is increasingly getting dominated by millennials, i have been witness to a very smart work force. One of the characteristics that i have observed in millennials is the ability (or probably "willingness" is a better word here) to figure out things on their own. Much like Julius did, they find pride in finding their own solutions to distinct problems and it is they consider is as a part of showcasing value. This is the generation that thrives on the need of a feedback and want to improve on every aspect of their work.

 Julius also said that "I do not have a coach, my motivation comes from within. Training without a coach is not an easy thing.” He did later coach with Finnish coach but bulk of his learning seem to have come from self-learning through YouTube videos. This proves that self-learning probably requires more self-discipline and internal motivation but the notion of self-learning do have its own limits and human touch to learning always helps fill a gap.

I personally do not think that we are headed to a world where mentors won't be needed at all but i can safely say that the role of mentors will eventually evolve. It would no longer be to delve into the basics (Ok, sometimes even basics need a friendly reminder), which can be learned from typical online sources but it will be more towards helping people reach a certain level of self-actualization.

What do you think?

Image source: 
http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-illustration-teacher-training-student-mentorship-group-business-people-learning-help-their-mentor-image47341796 http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/image/524474.html 

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