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Understanding the role of a Mentor

The role of a mentor brings so many challenges and great rewards, with great mentors working with the sole aim of shaping their mentees into other leaders, rather than just right followers. If mentoring is appropriately done, its long-term effect can offer life- and career-changing benefits to both parties.

Mentoring is made up of a long-term relationship whose goal is to support the growth and development of the mentee. The mentor becomes a source of insight, educating, and support.

Mentoring and coaching offer incredible priceless development support for both parties. However, mentoring provides high-level guidance for long-term development, while coaching provides immediate improvement in targeted areas.

History and Definition

According to balancecareer.com, a character in Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey" who was called the original mentor. When the King of Ithaca went to fight in the Trojan War, Odysseus consigns the care of his kingdom and his son, Telemachus to a mentor.

The Webster Online Dictionary defines a mentor as "a reliable counsellor" while the English Oxford Dictionary defined a mentor as an "experienced person in a company or educational institution who trains and counsels new employees or students".

Why do I need to seek out a Mentor?

Imagine a skilled individual gets employed on a sales job and is fortunate enough to have a senior sales executive as a mentor. The senior colleague will guide, counsel and support the new employee in developing as a leader in the sales field.

The mentor will provide guidance and discipline for the new employee and encourage him/her to carefully think through issues and approach by asking the right questions, from the right people, at the right time to get the right answers, serving as a source of wisdom when needed.

The relationship between the mentee and the mentor may end at some point, but most often, the impact of the mentoring will carry the mentee throughout the rest of his/her career.

A lot of people have attributed part of their professional growth to the guidance of a good mentor who challenged them to think, act differently and open their mind to different/alternative ideas. Sometimes, a mentor becomes a personal advocate who advocates for you in your work life.

In our world today, many organizations recognize the gains of effective mentoring and have programs in place to help younger professionals identify and gain support through mentoring.

What a Mentor Does for You

  • Monitoring your growth and development.

  • Helps you see the destination but without the detailed map to get there.

  • Offers encouragement.

A Mentor Does Not

  • A mentor does not offer "how to" advice

  • A mentor does not function as an advocate for you in the organizational environment such as your boss would; the relationship is mostly informal.

  • A mentor does not tell you how to do things.

  • A mentor does not serve as a counsellor or therapist.

The Bottom Line

A good mentor is capable of making a real difference in your career and life. Approach your relationship with a mentor with realistic expectations about the role and a willingness to work hard.

The effect of a mentor's guidance and wisdom now may not be immediate, but you will realize its positive impact over time and go on to become a mentor to others.

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