To be a mentor is to follow in a great tradition that traces its origins all the way back to Greek mythology.Mentorwas the name of a friend of Odysseus who was placed in charge of his son, Telemachus, when Odysseus left for the Trojan War. Because of Mentor’s fatherly guidance of the boy a mentor has become known as a father-like teacher or guide. Since those early days mentors have offered advice and assistance to their mentees and helped them with their academic, athletic or business careers. It is a relationship that has certainly provided benefits for the person being mentored but many companies are discovering that mentoring also brings benefits to the mentor and the organization as well.
So what is a mentor? A mentor is normally a person who has more experience than someone else, usually younger, and is willing to share that experience with them. In business a mentor can pass on what they have learned and how they achieved success, and sometimes stumbled, in their career so far. They can also help introduce someone to their friends and network and provide encouragement and advice as their mentee learns and grows.
A mentor however is not a coach. A coach acts as a facilitator to help their client find the answers and the wisdom within themselves. A mentor on the other hand will share their personal insights and provide advice and guidance to their mentee and will be much more actively involved in opening career doors and opportunities for their charge.
Mentoring can work at any stage of a career but the most common partnering is between an older, more experienced worker or manager who is closer to retirement and a younger, up and coming worker or potential manager who needs someone to guide and counsel them through the growing period of their career. Such a relationship often has benefits for both parties. The younger worker gets help in plotting out and achieving their career goals and the older worker gets to pass along their knowledge in a manner that respects their experience and expertise. Many companies employ their most senior people as mentors for the last year or two of their working career so that they can remain useful and productive and that the important corporate memory that is stored in their brains can be released to a new generation.
Mentoring can be a particularly useful tool for women, visible minorities and immigrants because the emphasis of mentoring is on being inclusive and in bringing the mentee further inside the workings of an organization. In many cases the doors to the executive boardroom are not as easily accessible to these groups because of old systems and even older old boys networks. This can become a barrier to advancement especially for women and having someone who has been there before is a great encouragement to aim and reach higher than without this support.
It is easy to understand how a mentee would benefit from having a mentor but what does a mentor get out of this process? According to many who have participated in a mentoring program there are just as many benefits to the mentor. First of all they get acknowledged by the organization for their particular expertise. Secondly they realize that even if they have but a few more years of active work that they are still a valuable asset to the organization. But most of all mentors also grow through the mentoring process. Sometimes this comes from looking at the organization or problems from a younger, less experienced, but also perhaps less jaded eyes that are open to new solutions to old problems. And sometimes it is just from the synergy that is created when two very different heads work on the same issues. Both learn from the process.
For the organization or company mentoring offers a myriad of benefits that include having a ready made talent source that can be tapped into to help new managers quickly learn the ropes and an important element of a succession plan that can continually be renewed. Mentoring also fosters a sense of camaraderie and loyalty to the company brand that only years of experience can testify properly to and a commitment to lifelong learning that encourages everyone in the organization, regardless of their age or experience to participate and contribute fully. The organization also benefits from the strength of the many close personal relationships that are built through the mentoring process. These friendships can prove invaluable in problem solving across the organization today and long into the future.
In short mentoring benefits everybody.
Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of “Change the Things You Can” (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: