Dr. Shantha Mohan

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

- Sir Isaac Newton

The importance of mentorship to organizations is a well-researched subject.

A 2007 CNN Money column, “Ask Annie,” titled Being a mentor could boost your own career, talks about an internal study conducted at Sun Microsystems (acquired by Oracle) over several years, and I quote,

“The results are intriguing, and may help persuade your reluctant managers to sign up. When Sun compared the career progress of about 1,000 employees over a five-year period, it turned out that both mentors and mentees were more than 20% more likely to have gotten a raise than people who didn’t participate in the mentoring program at all. But here’s the surprising part: 25% of mentees got a raise, while 28% of mentors did (vs. just 5% of managers who were not mentors). And that’s not all. Employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than people who didn’t have mentors, but again the mentors fared even better: They were six times more likely to have been tapped for a bigger job.”

A 2009 Wall Street Journal article, Finding Anchors in the Storm: Mentors, says close to three-fourths of Fortune 500 companies have formal mentoring programs.

Mentoring and Coaching

Mentoring and Coaching

Image courtesy: Pixabay

We often use coaching and mentoring interchangeably. However, there are some subtle differences between the two. I usually associate mentoring with a long-term relationship. Coaching is usually a short-term activity. However, a mentor can be both, depending on the mentee’s needs and skills of self. In my experience in mentoring, I have played the role of a mentor while also addressing the short-term needs of the mentees. For example, if my entrepreneur mentee had a software engineering issue, because of my deep experience in the field, I could give them pointers to solve the immediate problem.

Coaching vs Mentoring

I coach many engineering students at my alma mater, the College of Engineering, Guindy, on how to apply for higher studies in the US since I live in the US and keep up with what is happening in higher education. I also mentor some of them beyond this initial request to navigate their lives.

In another example from the epic Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna is Arjuna’s mentor. He is a coach on the battlefield, bolstering Arjuna’s confidence and propelling him towards victory.

Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna

Image courtesy: Pixabay

I discovered an artificial intelligence app called, which gave excellent answers to my questions about the principles of good mentoring, which I present in the next section. 1 2

Foundation of Successful Mentorship

Several factors contribute to the success of a mentorship program. The characteristics of mentors and mentees are fundamental to a successful engagement with outcomes that delight the mentees and bring immense satisfaction to the mentor.

Foundation of Successful Mentorship

Here is a list of characteristics that define an outstanding mentor.

Empathy: Impactful mentors are empathic and emotionally intelligent. They are highly self-aware and can put themselves in the mentee’s shoes to understand their situations.

Patience: Mentors must understand that progress in a mentorship can take time. In the world of education, good learning programs start with the mentality of “start from where they’re at,” which is also valid for mentoring. One has to start from where the mentee is and gauge how quickly they can move to absorb all that the mentor has to offer. 

Flexibility: Good mentors flex their thought process depending on what the mentees share and are flexible about how they work with their mentees, including the logistics involved.  

Mutual Respect: It is essential to approach a mentoring relationship with confident humility, instead of with an attitude of “I know it all.” Good mentors respect what the mentees bring to the mentorship.

Honesty: Mentors must be candid with the mentees about what is possible and what can be done to improve the situation and suggest stretch goals. The feedback to mentees must be delivered with great care.

Encouragement: It is the mentors’ job to be cheerleaders. If a mentee reaches an intermediate milestone or has a significant accomplishment, celebrate it. The mentees must know you applaud their efforts.

Dedication: When you start a mentoring engagement, commit yourself to seeing it through with your full attention.  

Knowledge and Experience: A mentor who is a lifelong learner can keep their knowledge current. It is also vital they know when they don’t know, and be able to say that, and get the mentee help in another way.

Communication Skills: Listening is a critical skill for mentors. It allows one to understand better, relate to, and guide the mentees. Giving and receiving constructive feedback in the mentoring engagement is a must for mentors. 

It is not enough to have a mentor with these characteristics. The mentees bring a lot to the table that includes many of the same attributes, plus open minds and motivation.

The mentorship engagement requires a rigorous process that comprehends the logistics involved and should be worked out between the mentor and mentee to suit their mutual needs and constraints.

“When one teaches, two learn.”

- Robert Heinlein

The Mentor’s Reward

In the book Trillion Dollar Coach, the authors write,  

“When asked about his habit of eschewing compensation, Bill would say that he had a different way of measuring his impact, his own kind of yardstick. I look at all the people who’ve worked for me or who I’ve helped in some way, he would say, and I count up how many are great leaders now. That’s how I measure success.” 

When I reflect on all the mentorship engagements I have had over the years, I can’t help but appreciate how rewarding they have been to see my mentees blossom and grow. However, a mentor’s reward is not limited to this. Every time I engage with a mentee, I learn something new. My horizon expands to absorb the mentee’s circumstances and experiences, and I gain a broader perspective on life. For someone like me, a technologist, it helps me stay current in advances such as artificial intelligence because of mentees who are currently in that field.

Mentoring is Essential to Professional Development Plans

A leader can be a role model and actively mentor those in the organization at all levels. Most mentoring happens organically. However, the organization can provide a platform for mentees and mentors and let mentees discover mentors for themselves. Organizations can support the program by collecting feedback and using it to honor those who actively mentor others and reward mentees who actively seek help and guidance. Make mentoring—giving and receiving—a part of your professional development plan.


Dr. Shantha Mohan

Software Engineering Leader, Author, Mentor

Author Spotlight

Dr. Shantha Mohan is a mentor, project guide, and an Executive in Residence at the iLab, Integrated Innovation Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Before that, she was a global technical leader and entrepreneur, co-founding Retail Solutions Inc., a retail analytics company. She also has over 20 years of experience focused on mission-critical systems to support semiconductor and other high-value-added manufacturing. 

Dr. Shantha is a three-time author, has authored Roots and Wings – Inspiring Stories of Indian Women in Engineering, and has co-authored Demystifying AI for The Enterprise – A Playbook for Business Value and Digital Transformation. Her newest book, Leadership Lessons with The Beatles: Tips and Tools for Becoming Better at Leading, was published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis in May 2022.

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