Behind every successful Sindhu is a Gopichand

Six ways mentors are critical to career success

#SindhuForGold is a great tag, but the real Sindhu had to settle for silver. She’ll forever be our Golden Girl anyway, for the sheer grit she displayed a few days ago and the grace even in defeat. Every stroke, every smash, every drop she executed was scripted by man on the sidelines - her mentor and coach, Pullela Gopichand.

The rise of Indian sports’ new It girls - Sindhu, Sakshi and Dipa - can be traced to the rigor and coaching they’ve undergone with each of their coaches. We’ve observed this in the corporate world too - whether Grove-Jobs, Jobs-Zuckerberg or closer home, Kamath-Kocchar, great mentor-mentee relationships have led to amazing work in business, media, art and sport.

Here are some ways mentors can help you scale new heights:

1. Instil Confidence:

Observers noted a marked difference in Sindhu’s aggression, body language and confidence in the Olympics. This is something she worked on with Gopi.

While confidence cannot be “taught”, mentors play a vital role in building confidence. If you are in doubt about a strategy or new idea, you can connect with your mentor. A mentor brings in many years of wisdom, knowledge and experience. Having a brainstorming session with your mentor can tighten the focus, and help you understand what aspects of an idea would work, and which ones would fail.

2. Help traverse the road less travelled

"When I started out as a coach, there were many who dissuaded me saying the system will not let you succeed. But I feel it is important to keep pushing. I saw ourselves as world beaters and I wanted to prove the sceptics wrong.'' – Pullela Gopichand

Most Indians would never believe that India could produce world-class badminton players. It almost seemed like an audacious proposition. However, Gopichand helped Sindhu (and other players in his academy) scale heights they never would have dreamt of. Setting up an academy in Hyderabad, India with world-class facilities is no mean feat. His academy has produced a string of world-class players including Saina Nehwal, Srikanth Kidambi and till recently, Parupalli Kashyap.

Likewise, when you are in a Greenfield, a mentor helps with taking your ideas to action. A mentor is usually an industry veteran with a large network. Helping you decide the budget, secure funds, get buy-in from Senior Management – a mentor can help you clear many obstacles with ease.

3. Motivate and Inspire

"Even though I had a few unforced errors with my tap into the net, coach said 'never mind and just keep going and I became alert for every point’." – P V Sindhu

A mentor can push you towards “greatness” – things that you wouldn’t think you would achieve otherwise, suddenly become possible with a mentor. Often, a mentor knows your potential better than you. In moments that matter, a mentor can give you the right advice to play on your strengths. In the larger scheme of things, a mentor can often act as a visionary, especially at times when you find it hard to look at the big picture.

4. Push for excellence, while being 100% committed

Although he quit playing, Gopichand had a 100% focus on the requirements of his wards. He trained along with his students to remain fit enough to spar with them, and in the run-up to the Summer Olympics, he stayed off carbohydrates.

Good mentors are passionate by nature. They push you towards achieving your career goals, and expect you to be equally committed. Not just that, they are more than committed to help you reach the pinnacle, often making many sacrifices themselves, in terms of personal time and effort.

5. When the going gets tough, the mentor gets going

“I restricted her from eating her favourite dessert sweet curd for last two weeks to keep her fit and also took her mobile phone away from her three months back. Giving back her mobile phone is my first duty now.” – Pullela Gopichand

Product Leadership can be daunting, especially when you are a newbie. Even if you’ve spent years in Project Management, Product Leadership is a different animal. Having a mentor helps you keep the laser-focused on the most important tasks at hand. A mentor disciplines you, helps you “cut the noise” and keep the blinders on to achieve your most important objectives.

6. Learning from failure

“In my career, I learnt a lot of things by trial and error... My time was done, but I wanted to do something for the younger players. And the academy gave me that opportunity.” – Pullela Gopichand

The mentor is an industry veteran and practitioner, and has probably experienced many pitfalls and setbacks. You can actually learn from the mentor’s failures, and go straight to a solution, rather than repeating the same mistakes.

The bottom line? There is no finite ending to the Mentor-Mentee equation. The mentor pushes you harder, to get to the next level, till you become a Mentor yourself.

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