“My company has made me a mentor” said the young manager proudly. Later he confided in me ” It’s nice to be recognized but I am not sure what I am really supposed to achieve”.

Many organizations are -formally or informally- putting in place a process where talent is nurtured through a mentoring program. Unfortunately, in some cases, like the one I described, the mentors themselves are at a loss as to what is expected of them.

In today’s language “mentor” means a reliable and trusted, usually older and more experienced advisor who can guide a person to achieve his/her potential and aspirations. Perhaps very few know and most don’t care but the word comes from ancient Greek history. Ulysses the famous warrior of the Trojan wars fame left his son Telemachus in the care of a person called Mentor.

Mentoring is essentially centred around fostering learning. Formally or more often informally, the mentee learns from the mentor primarily through the mentor sharing his/her experiences and knowledge. It is expected that the mentor should not be the mentee’s immediate supervisor. Indeed it is preferable if the mentor is from a different part of the organization.

Is mentoring different from coaching? In mentoring the focus is on transferring knowledge from the mentor to the mentee. In coaching, the focus is on the coachee learning himself/herself through the guidance of the coach.

If done well, there are many gains from the mentoring process.

  • Mentors gain by having an opportunity to share his/her knowledge and experience. They get a sense of satisfaction in helping others .
  • Those mentored gain by having knowledge and perspectives given them, which they may or may not have got in the normal course of events. Certainly they would not have got such perspective in such a short time.
  • The mentee’s boss gains by having a more capable and effective team member
  • Last but not the least, the organization gains by having more competent and motivated people who put a premium on continuous learning and development.

As I told the young manager chosen to be mentor, he had a wonderful opportunity to be a positive influence on young engineers assigned to be mentored by him. He could use this opportunity not only to teach them but to learn a lot himself through this experience.

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    This is the 60th of the “A Step A Day “series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.