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  • Michael Ade-Kunle

A fireside chat with Asha Haji - CEO & Co-founder, Framework

MFG Co-founder, Annabel Jack, caught up with Asha on her time as an MFG mentor last year & tips on how to make the most out of the experience.

Before our MFG 2020/21 Kick-Off Event drew to a close, the cohort was joined by Asha Haji, one of the great mentors on our programme last year. Asha is CEO & Co-founder of Framework, an organisation on a mission to build the world’s first on-demand business school. Along with Framework’s other co-founders - Riya Pabari and Tomos Evans - Asha’s commitment to learning, education, and personal development is nothing short of brilliant.

Additionally, Asha’s approach in thought leadership is so incredibly fresh and qualitative that we’ve been constantly wowed by what she comes up with. Asha’s definitely an inspiration to the MFG team and we were delighted to have her join us to round off the day.

Who was your mentee last year?

My mentee was actually from Personio, so we’ve come full circle with today’s agenda. He’s a sales manager there. He was at an interesting juncture in his career and was busy deciding how he wanted to advance - he had a lot of great questions for me as a result. From the feedback he gave me after each session, I think he got a lot out of our conversations.

How often did you meet?

We met on a monthly basis. It was a good frequency, giving us just enough time between meetings for lots of interesting developments to happen on his side. Things happen so fast in start-ups that four weeks can be a really long time for your career. We spent a lot of time talking through his decision-making processes.

What were the highlights of your experience and what was great about it?

Before the programme, I didn't fully appreciate the riches of the experiences that I had and could draw upon. Some of the questions my mentee had taken me back to my roles from five, ten years ago. You start to realise “Oh wow, there are some insights that are incredibly beneficial.” When you’re so focussed on the present and the future, you almost forget the different chapters of your career and the lessons you’ve learned. It's really nice to bring all of that up in a conversation with someone who's seeking direction and advice.

During our time together, there were many conversations about developing your own personal brand and choosing the right outlet to present your own insights. There’s nothing stopping any of us from doing this. I think a lot of people feel insecure about sharing what they’ve learned with other people. You may ask, “Well, what do I know?” or “How do I present myself to people when I'm only a couple of years or five years into my career?” My mentee was eager to share what he’d learned but wanted to do it in a way that would be beneficial to his audience and his own career. We had a lot of constructive conversations about what made sense at that stage of his career. It reminded me that it’s never too early to think that way without coming across as a self-promoter. There are ways you can genuinely provide insights to others and figure out who you want to be. He had an ambition that, I think, was admirable.

What’s your best advice for mentors?

There’s a great leadership framework around how you give advice, which I think is useful. Essentially, there's a difference between communication that’s advocacy focussed and communication that’s inquiry focussed.

Advocacy focussed communication means that you’re advocating for your own point of view, you're pushing for what you believe is right, you’re saying, “Hey, I've been there, and this is how it’s supposed to be”. Inquiry, on the other hand, is about asking questions, trying to discern, and attempting to tease out insights from the other person. As a mentor, you really want to lean more towards inquiry - even if you feel as though you’ve got the answer and they’re going down the wrong path.

This process isn’t about what you think is right, it’s about what is authentic and important to your mentee. You’re not going to get enough information on a short phone call to truly understand the scope of their capabilities and their work. Asking the right questions to your mentee is the best gift you can give. It will help to lead them down a path that is genuine and right for them.

What about mentees?

There’s a real inclination that you might want to be a sponge, especially if you think your mentor is brilliant. Your instinct is to absorb. However, the best mentor-mentee relationships are reciprocal. It will also help to research the person who’s going to be your mentor. Take a real interest in them and their background.

With one of my most important mentors, it felt like our relationship was a two-way street - even though she’s an extremely accomplished person. I feel very honoured that she feels that way about me. As a mentor, when there’s a mentee who - in their own way - offers insights and cares about your journey too, that’s when you truly want to give.

Quickfire questions

What mentor would you pick if you could choose anyone in the world?

Nadia Rawlinson: Board Director at J. Crew Group & ex-CPO at Slack. Nadia’s my current mentor. We have a great relationship and I want to keep it going!

Oprah: Everybody would want to be mentored by Oprah, right?

What are you reading currently?

I’m in the middle of reading a lot of Framework books at the moment as part of our curriculum. I’m really getting into the 30-Second series (by Liberty Vittert). I’m currently reading 30-Second Data Science.

Leadership is...

Empowerment. The best leaders empower everyone around them, and I think we strive to be that way every day.


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