Mentoring – Probably Not What You Think It Is

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MentoringAs is true with a number of words thrown around in HR-speak, the word “mentor” has any number of connotations depending on the frame of reference. It is also one of those words that can be a noun when it refers to the person doing it and a verb when it describes what the person is doing. To get down to the basic definition before going to other meanings, the word was originally age and gender specific. The mentor was a wise old teacher designated to instruct younger people and impart the knowledge of a philosophy, skill or craft. In Greek mythology, Mentor was a loyal friend and adviser to Odysseus, king of Ithaca. In his old age he helped to raise Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, when Odysseus left for the Trojan War. Because of Mentor’s relationship with Telemachus the personal name “mentor” has been adopted in English to mean someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with someone less experienced. Knowing nothing more than the fact that age was respected and knowledge was passed on in this manner we can see the beginnings of a theory of creating a culture of masters and apprentices that carried on through the ages. Before formal education was afforded to more and young people, this was the only way of passing craftsmanship down through the generations.

This will be the beginning of a series of articles describing the mentoring process and what it means in today’s world.

  1. The Art of Mentoring – A mentor is not a friend. This is not the buddy system. There are several key characteristics of a good mentor that will be discussed in a subsequent article, but for the most part it will be somebody that wants to mentor another person, has the experience to do so, and is accepted to be a source of knowledge and support by the mentee.
  2. The Art of Being a Mentee – The protégé, disciple, apprentice or student being instructed has responsibilities to make mentoring systems work. Most important of all is entering into the arrangement with the basic skills to reach a higher level and a certain humility that allows for intense listening and practice.
  3. Formal Mentoring Programs – There are many ways that a company can arrange for the mentoring process to begin. One aspect that must always be included in a mentoring plan is some way of assessing the participants and making corrections as necessary to improve the process. While all processes are not so technical as to demand detailed specifications, most employees will ramp up to a higher level of productivity in a faster time if given a leg up by mentoring.
  4. Informal Mentoring – Not all companies have formal programs to start a new employee on the right track. Many long term employees entering new jobs may not be afforded a formal program to bring them up to speed. It is necessary in some cases for mentors to self appoint themselves to fill a training gap. It is also important for all of us who need assistance to seek out and appoint our own mentors.

As you may have noticed, there is much more than meets the eye when this term is thrown around loosely. In order for us to be grounded in our approach to the process of formal and informal programs we need to look at mentoring from all perspectives and improve on existing practices.

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