Join us this week as we discuss inspiring greatness with Pankaj Srivastava. Learn more about how Mentor Cloud builds human connections in the workplace.
Pankaj Srivastava: Thank you, Carl. This is the most crucial discussion to have. When I reflect on my experiences as a person and a professional, I realize I'm the product of many other people's efforts—efforts to push me, inspire me, and highlight my superpowers. I'm grateful to the mentors who’ve helped me become who I am. I think of Mentor Cloud the same way, and I'm deeply connected with our purpose there.
My favorite way to describe Mentor Cloud is that we help organizations inspire their people to greatness. We’re unveiling the human behind the employee. It’s a systemic change in how we should view our people moving forward if we’re serious about building enduring companies.
Mentor Cloud allows organizations to connect people. When they connect people, there's a freer flow of wisdom—the fastest flow of contextual knowledge—that empowers people to be at their best, ultimately affecting companies' bottom lines.
Carl Lewis: You say many people put something into Pankaj, right? I feel the same. I wrote an outline of everyone in my life and what I've learned from them. They each said one or two or ten things that have stuck with me and that I repeat when I'm interacting with other people in business. I collected all those ideas, and someday I want to write a book.
Pankaj, many professionals want a mentor or want to be a mentor. What's their biggest challenge?
Pankaj Srivastava: Let me clarify what I mean by mentoring, as sometimes people confuse it with coaching. Mentoring is an act of learning from other people's experiences. It’s leveraging somebody else's genius for your benefit. If you’re the mentor, Carl, and I’m the mentee, that means it’s a transfer of wisdom from you to me.
When you're looking for a mentor, be clear about the relationship. When you're clear about what you want to learn from somebody else's experiences, you're oriented the right way for the journey to be beneficial.
The three challenges people face in creating mentor relationships are:
1) Thinking they don't have time. That's one of the biggest myths around mentorship—but I have reams of data to support that we do have time.
2) We aren’t clear on what we want to learn. Understanding who to build a relationship with for a mutually beneficial journey is a challenge. And 3) Having a pool of relevant mentors to pick from.
Carl Lewis: Makes sense. In my early twenties, I was trying to figure out how to be a good man, a good young husband, a good worker. I met with this fellow, John Watts, maybe five or six times—but those times were so important. It wasn't a lot of time, but it was a lot of impact.
Pankaj Srivastava: That’s such a relevant point. Mentorship isn’t about how much time you spend with somebody. A 20-minute conversation can alter your life's trajectory. It’s happened to me a few times. One time, I fell in love. I quit my job in Virginia and moved to the Bay Area in Silicon Valley to chase her. I had five weeks to find a job because that was the remaining time on my work visa. I took the first job I got. It was at one of the most innovative companies in the Valley back then, and I had no idea how to do the job. On my third day, I walked into my boss's office. It was Ken Nabar, an incredible man.
I said, "Ken, I know nothing about this. Why did you hire me?" He laughed and said, "You showed curiosity. When I want to innovate, I prefer curiosity over experience." And that’s how I’ve built my teams for 25 years now. Curiosity over experience every time. Otherwise, you’ll never innovate. That’s a great example of a mentor giving a lesson in five minutes or less.
Carl Lewis: How do companies benefit from mentorship?
Pankaj Srivastava: There are two ways to think about it. Mentorship is the fastest way to drive contextual knowledge. I can have all the skills in the world, but if I don’t understand how to apply them, I won’t succeed to my full potential. It’s critical to match skills with experience and context. Companies need to understand that mentoring isn’t a thing you do when you have extra time. Mentoring should be how you do business.
When thinking about how companies can benefit, think about the times we’re living in. Many of us work remotely or in hybrid environments, where it’s difficult to form human connections for contextual knowledge and wisdom exchange to happen naturally. What should companies do? Because now the in-person connection isn't available. Hence, it’s even more important to be intentional about mentoring—building programs, allowing your people to seamlessly connect with others despite not being in the same physical location, etc. If you’re not intentional, you’ll lose the institutional wisdom. It'll walk out the door, and you won’t be a competitive company. Human wisdom is the most vital thing for companies to worry about. It’s being underused.
Carl Lewis: Interesting. Is there a basic structural plan for a mentorship program?
Pankaj Srivastava: We think the definition of mentorship needs to expand. Mentorship doesn’t have to be a one-on-one relationship. That's the traditional view, but people learn differently. When we’re in hybrid or remote circumstances, how do we give everyone the ability to learn and grow? It isn’t possible to pigeonhole everybody into a one-on-one relationship. We should be intentional about mentorship, but not necessarily about a structure for it. Let your people choose how to learn. I can learn one-on-one with someone, from a peer community, or from a single conversation with a leader.
Carl Lewis: A friend told me their company started a fireside chat during the pandemic. They would choose different C-level leaders to tell their stories—how they got where they are professionally and personally. It wasn't required, but they were amazed at how favorably the employees rated fireside chats. They were 20 minutes, so they took only a little of your day, and they were first thing in the morning, so it was, “Grab a cup of coffee, come together, and hear this person’s story.” That's one way for some people to get mentorship, right?
Pankaj Srivastava: Absolutely.
Carl Lewis: What are the basics of a good mentorship relationship?
Pankaj Srivastava: Let me just comment on the fireside chat. I need to talk to your friend because fireside chats are a feature on Mentor Cloud with the same purpose. It’s for senior leaders who are sometimes unreachable—not because they want to be, but because of the practicality of a large organization—to show their humanness to the rest of us. It’s the number one feature for me on Mentor Cloud. A CEO who used the fireside chat told me, “Pankaj, magic happened. Now people know who I am, not what I do. It’s allowing me to build a human connection and a sense of belonging with my team.” I’d love to talk to your friend.
Carl Lewis: I'll put you in touch with him.
Pankaj Srivastava: Thanks, Carl. Back to your question: There are three keys for a mentor and three for a mentee. A mentor must be compassionate, non-judgmental, and committed to their mentee’s success. Without those attributes, you won't be a great mentor. Non-judgmental means creating a vulnerable place for somebody to share what they feel so you can help them with your own experience. Committing to your mentee’s success means following up.
Mentees must trust their mentors because ultimately, it’s about learning from the mentor’s genius. If you don't trust that person, how will you ever do that meaningfully? Mentees must act on their mentor’s advice. Otherwise, what's the point? Mentees must show gratitude because they’ll get more advice after that. When you have those keys, you have amazing, mutually beneficial journeys together.
Carl Lewis: What would you tell somebody who wants a mentor? How do they find someone?
Pankaj Srivastava: The first thing is that getting a mentor is a great decision. Socrates said smart people learn from everyone and everything, average people learn from their own experiences, and stupid people already know all the answers. This is what I advise, and what I've done myself. I identify people, which is easy in today’s world. Go to LinkedIn and follow people in your industry or with the experience you’d like to have or the type of job you might want in five years. Identify people at the top of their field and follow them.
Watch how they interact with their network. Then be bold and reach out. I was a fan of someone for 15 years, but always intimidated by her. One day I sent her a LinkedIn message: "Andy, I need help." She knew I’d been following her for years. She responded in two hours, we connected, and I learned from her. Don't be intimidated. So, identify people you want to emulate, follow them, see how they react to people, and then reach out.
Carl Lewis: What if you're in a good place in your career and want to pay it forward as a mentor? What do you do?
Pankaj Srivastava: Here’s my personal story, although I don't know if it's the best way for others. I 100% believe I wouldn’t be where I am without the help of so many people. There’s a chapter in my still-being-written book called Ode to My Mentors. I even identified people by name. It feels natural to give back, so I'm a mentor at multiple incubators worldwide. I teach for free, and when I teach, I learn more. Then people contact me and say, "I like what you said about this. Could we spend 30 minutes talking about it?" That starts a mentorship relationship with somebody. It could be a person, a team, or a company.
I have seven active mentor-mentee relationships. Four are individuals and three are companies, two of which are in Africa. That happens because you begin with the intent to give, and then you wait. People will say, "I need to learn more about what he said." You don't find someone and say, "I want to mentor you." Just give, and mentees will contact you. That's my personal experience.
Carl Lewis: You've mentioned the future of work, where we are now, what we've been through, and how the world is changing. What’s the role of mentorship in the future of work?
Pankaj Srivastava: It's vital. Every single week, I talk to three people I've never met. That's how I see my job: to learn, to learn, to learn. When I talk to senior leaders across large organizations worldwide, they're all worried because the nature of the modern workforce has changed radically. My generation was told what to do, and we did it happily. When we started careers, it was about the company's growth/results. There was zero sensitivity to social responsibility. That world is gone.
The new workforce is demanding a sense of purpose. Social responsibility. Personal growth. Leaders who don't adapt to this radical change will fail at building enduring companies. And they're worried. For example, the CEO of one of the largest insurance companies in the world said, "Pankaj, we hire 30 people a week. How do I onboard these people? How do I build culture? How do I form a relationship with them?" Mentoring is the answer. Maybe not the complete answer, but a good starting point for companies to adapt as a vital cog of business in this environment. Creating human connections is vital to onboarding the modern workforce.
A lot of this concerns the new modern workforce—but also the exiting workforce. Close to a quarter of the workforce will retire in five years. All that institutional wisdom will step out the door. These people spent 30-40 years learning and becoming masters of their trade. Can you let that walk away? What’s the best way to retain institutional wisdom and pass it along? Mentorship. Both to accommodate the demands of the new workforce and to retain this tremendous institutional knowledge that took decades to build. Mentorship is the starting point. Make it part of how you do business.
Carl Lewis: That's something people need to think about with so many people retiring. And I hope I'm one of them!
Pankaj Srivastava: Leave behind all the wisdom, which you do already with your podcast.
Carl Lewis: I try. I encourage listeners to check out Mentor Cloud. Pankaj has so much passion for this topic, and I’m sure that passion reverberates throughout the company. Pankaj, thank you for joining us today, and to everyone out there, stay connected.