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In 2015 Deloitte did research among about 7800 young professionals worldwide and found in Asia about 40% said they have a mentor. In the West this percentage is around 15% and in my home country of the Netherlands it is 9%, which is the lowest in the whole world. This difference is enormous, so I decided to research where it comes from. Is there any cultural reason for it?

So I googled “Asia” and “Mentor” and worked through the results. In the process I learned a lot of things, but what I kept stumbling upon were the connections made to Eastern Religions. I found that in Asia the term “mentor” is often used interchangeably with the word “guru”.

Gurus are an integral part of Hinduism and the religions that originated from Hinduism, like Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. A guru is a teacher, expert and guide and literally means “One who dispels (Ru) darkness (Gu)” in Sanskrit. All these religions state in their oldest texts that you can only grow by 1) doing good (karma) or 2) by seeking help of a guru. They explain that the world is actually full of gurus, but that it is very hard to find the ríghtguru(s) for you. And I believe this still holds today for finding a mentor. There are a lot of mentors out there, but finding the right one is the challenge. Also, they mention that with enough growth you can achieve “self-realisation”, which is the ultimate goal. And at that moment you yourself become a guru and others will approach you to learn from you.

Reading about gurus, eastern religions and self-realisation, it becomes apparent why so many young people in Asia have mentors. People are taught from a young age about the value of having a mentor or guru. And even today, when Asians are becoming less religious, mentoring seems to remain an integral part of the culture.

But is there any hard proof how Asians benefit from this, you might ask? There is research to indicate there is, but I’ll save that for the next post. I don’t want to pollute this article with my usual boring Western view of data and empirical evidence. I much more prefer to leave you to linger on the mythical and the spiritual wisdom of the ages …

Recently I found some great stories about Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff and two inspiring mentors he connected with over the years. His story peaked my interest, because both of his mentors used very different mentoring styles, that both added critical ingredients to Benioff’s success.

In 2015 Benioff was interviewed by CNN reporter Harlow about his inspiring mentor, Steve Jobs, who had just passed away. He told the story how Jobs hired him in 1984 for an internship job at Apple as an assembly language programmer and saw something in this 19-year old college student. When he finished college, he decided to work for Oracle instead and their contact reduced for some years. However, in 1999 when Benioff founded Salesforce, he reconnected with his old mentor. And during the critical first years of Salesforce, Jobs would regularly invite Benioff to his office to tutor and mentor him. Benioff told Harlow an anecdote about what Jobs told him in the early 2000s, when Benioff was feeling stuck. He said “Marc, you need to do three things: One, Salesforce better be 10 times larger in 24 months or less, or else it’s over. Two, you have to close a huge massive customer, like Avon…and three, you’ve got to build an application economy.” Jobs gave Benioff clear and ambitious goals for Salesforce, which Benioff embraced in the years afterwards. Benioff even concluded to Harlow that without Steve Jobs there would be no Salesforce today.

Job’s mentoring style is called “goal directed mentoring”. Mentorby co-founder and mentoring specialist Gerdien Wijngaard explains “goal directed mentoring focuses on the mentee’s current problems and provides guidance to the mentee on how to resolve those problems effectively.” According to research into generational mentoring, this style of mentoring decreasing the mentee’s feeling of “Feeling valued by the mentor”. It is great for achieving results, but it can inhibit the mentee from really opening up.

Benioff’s other influential mentor was his former boss at Oracle, Larry Ellison. From the moment Benioff joined Oracle at age 23, during his 13 years there, he and Ellison became close friends and confidants. The two men had a lot in common. Both were gifted speakers, tech savvy business men and both were interested in Zen Buddhism and meditation. When Benioff told Ellison he wanted to start a cloud software company, Ellison gave him all the needed support, including a 6 month sabbatical to work on his company. Ellison even became one of the first investors of Salesforce. When Salesforce grew, Oracle and Salesforce became competitors and their personal relationship deteriorated into rivalry and public bantering. Thankfully in 2013 they finally re-united and made amends, and both their companies announced a strategic partnership.

The mentoring style of Ellison is called “relational mentoring” . In relational mentoringthe mentor works on building a close and personal connection with the mentee. This style focuses on providing the mentee with a comfort zone to address a broad range of personal problems. My colleague Gerdien mentioned about this style: “The relationship can change into a friendship of equals. If not addressed, it will confuse both sides about what is expected of each other. As a mentor, if you really want to help, you should try to remain in your role of the selfless giving party”. And maybe this is what derailed Ellison and Benioff’s relationship and resulted in their decade long fallout.

In summary, goal directed mentoring focuses on effectively accomplishing the mentee’s goals. Jobs applied this style because of his strong belief in what Benioff needed to become successful. Relational mentoring on the other hand, builds confidence to trust your own choices and take risks. It is important that mentors learn how and when to apply each style. Similarly, for mentees it is important to realise that not all mentors are experienced in both. Like Benioff with Ellison, a mentee must learn that some mentors will give you the confidence to take risks and leap, while others like the late Jobs, will give you straight feedback and a clear path to achieve your goals.

I hope this story inspires you and taught you something new. And if not, maybe you should discuss it in your next mentoring session. 🙂

Arul Elangovan, Co-founder of

Today, while busy with my partners working on our Mentoring startup proposition, I stumbled upon something very inspiring and innovative called Mentoring Walks. It’s a global movement developed by female CEOs and business leaders as a way to provide mentoring to young women by allowing them to join influential women leaders in their daily walks.

The idea was born in 2009 when Geraldine Laybourne, then CEO and Founder of Oxygen Media, realised that her busy schedule could not accommodate meetings with the dozens of young women eager to seek her guidance. As a solution for her busy schedule, Laybourne began inviting these women on her daily walks. Soon, she was scheduling young women each day to walk with her. Seeing the power and success of this simple formula, she organized Mentoring Walks in key U.S. cities to highlight the importance of mentoring and provide young women access to successful role models. Modelled on her creative way of mentoring, Vital Voices started a global program of mentoring walks in 60 countries to support the advancement of gender equality.

What I love about these Mentoring Walks is that walking is a very natural way to have productive conversations. Walking and talking allows for natural pauses in the conversation when we pass people or see birds tjirping away. Recently while talking to people about what makes an effective mentorship meeting, it struck me how unnatural meeting rooms are to have a personal conversations in. Walking is what we were made for as human beings. We have been walking for millions of years and only in the last hundred years have resorted to sitting and note-taking instead of walking and listening. Let’s all make a promise to bring back these age-old customs of walking and listening.

If you want to participate in Mentoring Walks or find out more about this positive method of advancing gender equality, please visit the Vital Voices website.