The mentorship debate and Shark Tank India

This is the fourth article in a series published every week, where Namita Thapar, Executive Director, Emcure Pharmaceuticals relives her experiences as a Shark on Shark Tank India. Here, she talks about mentorship being a chain of giving and receiving.
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At Shark Tank India, after every pitch, the Sharks would make an offer at a particular valuation. Several pitchers would take a two-minute break to speak to their mentors to guide them on whether to accept the offer or not.

On one such pitch, the founder rejected our offer based on his mentor’s advice and I remember a discussion that followed between, Ashneer, Aman and I on the role of mentors. In fact, they showed some of this debate at the end of Episode 19. I was speaking about how mentors have really helped me become who I am today and Ashneer countered by saying that he believes that one doesn’t really need a mentor in life.

Is there a right or wrong answer to this? Absolutely not. It’s completely a personal choice.

In this post, I wanted to share my thoughts on what a mentor really means to me and ‘I am who I am’ because of my good fortune of having two outstanding mentors (and a third one, I was lucky to find a couple of months back).

How does one pick a mentor?

A mentor is someone who you deeply respect and want to emulate. Sometimes, it can be a domain expert who can guide you. But a mentor need not be from the same industry. Rather, it must be someone who can inspire you, give you brutally honest feedback at times and lift your spirits at other times. I have a mentor who is on the board of the company and that made it easier to approach him. My other two mentors are folks I didn’t know but admired and therefore cold-called and requested to mentor me – fortunately for me, both said ‘yes’. So, look around you, identify the people you look up to and just ask, you may get lucky like me.

There have been many inspiring leaders who I have looked up to but they haven’t been able to commit the time to have regular interactions with me. Being a mentor is a commitment of time and energy and it’s not an easy role for leaders who are already overwhelmed and preoccupied with their busy professional lives. But it is also the most noble and gratifying way to give back and help others truly reach their full potential!

A mentor is a teacher best summed up in the words of Khalil Gibran – ‘The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.’

What should one expect from a mentor?

I always thought that a mentor would help me think through my business decisions, help me network with the right people, teach me important management lessons but was I wrong or what! Fortunately, for me, my mentor did none of that. He helped me strengthen my core, taught me to be in touch with my inner voice, get rid of my ego and become a kinder and more authentic person. Once your core is strong, the rest will follow! My long list of three-year, five-year and 1- year goals with timelines and milestones got substituted with two life goals – know yourself and help others… once you simplify your life, everything else just falls in place and you get the strength to deal with what life throws at you.

What is the biggest skill a mentor needs to have?

We all lead complex, stressful lives. We need someone with whom we can be our vulnerable selves, someone with whom we need not posture, not overthink, someone we can speak our heart out to, this is the most therapeutic feeling, and a mentor is one who allows you to do just that - be yourself and speak your mind, knowing you will not be judged. A mentor is not expected to know the answers and tell you what to do but has the magical power to ask the right questions that will lead you to your own insights and answers. Sometimes, this could be through a short conversation or through some quotes or books to read.

What is the best payback for a mentor?

I have been fortunate to have fantastic mentors and my biggest desire in life is to now mentor others – people who need someone to guide and help them. Do I have the ability to do regular one-on-one sessions - maybe with two-three mentees but with others my writings, my talks, my edtech academy can help spread the message and teach them what I have learned with age and time and from my mentors. My portfolio companies have gifted me the unique opportunity to be a sounding board and a guide to these driven and passionate founders. I am excited to be a part of their journeys.

Such is the chain of mentorship, what you receive, you must generously give to others and that is the best payback for a good mentor.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan

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