The Role of a Mentor

History and Definition:

The original Mentor is a character in Homer’s epic poem: The Odyssey. When Odysseus, King of Ithaca went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his kingdom to Mentor. Mentor served as the teacher and overseer of Odysseus’ son, Telemachus.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines a mentor as „a trusted counselor or guide.” Others expand on that definition by suggesting that a mentor is „someone who is helping you with your career, specific work projects or general life advice out of the goodness of his or her heart.

Why Seek Out a Mentor?

As described earlier, I attribute part of my professional growth to the guidance of a patient mentor. He challenged me to think differently and to open my eyes and mind to different perspectives. While each of us develops at our own pace, it is reasonable to believe that this type of influence is positive for all of us.

A mentor is a personal advocate for you, not so much in the public setting, but rather in your life. Many organizations recognize the power of effective mentoring and have established programs to help younger professionals identify and gain support from more experienced professional in this format.

What a Mentor Does for You:

  • A mentor takes a long-range view on your growth and development.
  • A mentor helps you see the destination but does not give you the detailed map to get there.
  • A mentor offers encouragement and cheerleading, but not „how to” advice.

What a Mentor Does Not Do for You:

  • A mentor is not a coach as explained above.
  • A mentor is typically not an advocate of yours in the organizational environment: the relationship is private.
  • A mentor is not going to tell you how to do things.
  • A mentor is not there to support you on transactional, short-term problems.
  • A mentor is not a counselor.

Eight Ideas to Help You Succeed With a Mentor:

Understanding the role of the mentor is a critical starting point for success in this relationship. Additional requirements include:

  1. Investing your time in seeking out the mentor.
  1. Sharing your goals and fears openly.
  2. Not expecting the mentor to solve your short-term problems or do the work for you.
  3. Not expecting specific advice.
  4. Sharing where you are struggling or failing.
  5. Listening carefully and then researching and applying the mentor’s guidance.
  6. Showing that you value the mentor’s support.
  7. Not abusing the relationship by expecting political support in the organization.

The Bottom Line:

mentor can be a difference maker in your career and life. It is important to come to the relationship with open eyes on the role and to have proper expectations. And remember, the impact of a mentor’s guidance and wisdom now may not be felt for years to come. However, it will be felt.

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