Mentoring

by Joy Finnegan, Editor
[email protected]
Posted 3/3/2011

Was anyone else forced to read the Greek myths or Homer’s “Odyssey” in high school? I was. At the time, I thought of them as pure drudgery. Even the dreaded Shakespeare was better than these ancient and obscure stories. But, as I have grown older, I have come to appreciate the allegorical nature of the stories and their meanings.

Mentors contribute to the growth of employees by coaching them on topics that aren’t things you can learn by studying for an exam.

One of the stories from “The Odyssey” has been on my mind lately. Maybe you remember it too. Odysseus leaves to go and fight in the Trojan war. Realizing that he will be gone for a long time and may not return, he places the care of his son, Telemachus, in the hands of a nobleman and trusted counselor named Mentor. As if it were not enough that Telemachus had this nobleman watching out for him and advising him, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, often came to earth and took the form of Mentor to further advise and guide the young Telemachus. Through Mentor, Athena gave Telemachus help overcoming many challenging obstacles in his life.

From this story in Homer’s “Odyssey,” comes a term that we use frequently in today’s business environment, mentor. As it is used today, its meaning is still very close to its origins, a wise and trusted advisor.

A mentor can assume many different roles including teacher, motivator, advisor, coach, door-opener. A good mentor has some traits that are conducive to their role. They are supportive, patient, secure in their position and achievers. They tend to be accepting of others, even their shortcomings. Mentors require the ability to listen and possess questioning skills and a passion for their work and industry. They provide constructive and positive feedback and are able to plan and make decisions.

Mentors contribute to the growth of employees by coaching them on topics that aren’t things you can learn in a classroom or by studying for an exam such as interpersonal communications, self-confidence, negotiation skills, problem solving, accessing resources and networking. These are skills that may be lacking in the technical workforce and are necessary to advance in any field.

One example comes to mind. I was working at a company with many A&P mechanics. One day, a company-wide e-mail was sent out announcing some rather unsettling news. One of the mechanics, new to the corporate environment, took it upon himself to write up a rather strongly worded response indicating that he did not agree with the content of the announcement and then hit “reply all.” He got a lot of flack for that because even the CEO was on that list. But one senior supervisor pulled him quietly aside and took the time to explain not only why he shouldn’t have done that, but also the thinking behind the company’s newly released policy and also let him know how he could have handled it differently, better. That is mentoring at its best, and one of many reasons people enjoyed working for that supervisor.

Some companies have instituted programs encouraging the mentoring of others. One company’s mentoring program states, “Mentoring is a structured and trusting relationship that brings young people together with caring individuals who offer guidance, support and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the mentee.”

This company’s policy goes on to explain, “A mentor’s main purpose is to help a young person define individual goals and find ways to achieve them. Since the expectations of each [person] will vary, the mentor’s job is to encourage the development of a flexible relationship that responds to both the mentor’s and the young person’s needs.” This statement exemplifies the synergistic nature of mentoring. Both the mentor and the mentee will benefit from the experience by staying on top of their field, developing a professional network, and extending their contribution to their company by nurturing the growth and development of its employees.

Perhaps you have had a mentor in your career; someone who took the time to see the potential in you, even when you were a diamond in the rough. This person may have advised you, counseled you and guided you. You may even feel as though you wouldn’t be where you are today without their help. There’s no time like the present to begin mentoring someone yourself.

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