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Mentoring...What's it all about?

Probably the misused tool in businesses and organizations today.

Brittany was excited as she wrapped up her 1 X 1 with her manager. She had been working hard to master new skills as a part of her individual development plan. She had heard rumors of several new positions opening up, and she felt that she had a good shot at one of them. Now her manager was proposing that they find a mentor for her within the business, and the VP of Operations name was just mentioned as a candidate. Brittany knew of Mr. Bronson's reputation; his story of rising from area sales manager to his current role was legendary in their company. Her manager called Mr. Bronson to ask if he would consider being Brittany's mentor. The smile on her manager's face betrayed the answer. He would be glad to work with her. She put the phone on speaker, introduced Brittany, and they scheduled their first meeting for the following week.

Brittany made it a point to be at Mr. Bronson's office five minutes early. She hoped that her enthusiasm wouldn't be too evident. Mr. Bronson invited her in and she took the seat in front of his desk.

"Thank you so much for helping me Mr. Bronson. I know there is a lot you can teach me."

"The pleasure is mine Brittany", he replied. "What would you like to talk about?"

Brittany was a little lost. She had hoped that Mr. Bronson would already have some ideas about where they could begin. "Well", she started, "Why don't you tell me how you became so successful here in our business."

Talking about himself was one of Mr. Bronson's strong suits. He spent the next thirty minutes telling her his personal success story. Brittany walked away still feeling excited, but not sure how much benefit she received from the time they spent together.

Over the next weeks, Mr. Bronson cancelled as many of their scheduled meetings as they held. Brittany understood that he was very busy; working on things that she knew she had yet to learn. She began to feel that the benefit of having a mentor was drastically overrated. She didn't feel that she was getting much from it, and Mr. Bronson seemed more and more uncomfortable with the arrangement. Neither of them really understood what a strong mentoring relationship should look like.

Brittany's story is far too common in today's workplace. Most people know the word "mentor", but few really understand how a mentor/mentee relationship should work. To begin, let's look at the origin of a's a pretty cool story.

In Homer's "The Odyssey", Mentor was the son of Alcimus. In his old age, Mentor was a friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War, he placed Mentor and Eumaeus (his foster brother-in-law) in charge of his son Telemachus, and of Odysseus's palace.

When Athena visited Telemachus, she took the disguise of Mentor to hide herself from the suitors of Telemachus's mother Penelope. As Mentor, the goddess encouraged Telemachus to stand up to the suitors and go abroad to find his father. When Odysseus returned to Ithica, Athena appeared briefly once again as Mentor at Odysseus's palace.

Because of Mentor's relationship with Telemachus, and the disguised Athena's encouragement and practical plans for dealing with personal dilemmas, the personal name Mentor was adopted in Latin and other languages including English as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less-experienced colleague. (from Wikipedia)

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines it this way...

mentor.noun. One who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person. mentor.verb. To teach or give advice or guidance to someone such as a less experienced person or child.: to act as a mentor.

Mentoring is a development tool, a knowledge sharing opportunity, and an organizational culture enhancer. It is not a guarantee of promotion, a replacement for formal development, or a substitute for good leadership.

Mentors have key roles in assisting people with their individual growth. Among them are...

Adviser: They act as a sounding board and facilitator

Protector: They ensure a safe environment to take risks

Developer: They provide guidance based on observations

Broker: They identify skill gaps through a third-party lens

Challenger: They positively provoke and push towards highest standards

Clarifier: They teach organizational values and politics

Affirmer: They give needed support and enhance self-esteem

Sponsor: They provide visibility and recognition to the mentee

Sadly, most businesses, and business leaders, fail in their role as mentors. Creating a strong mentoring program in your business or organization involves having skills and knowledge in understanding the value of mentoring relationships, knowing how to build the relationship, how to maintain the relationship, and how to evaluate the relationship. Things are different in today's world. Don't get caught up in the idea that mentoring has to be, "I have a lot of experience and you don't. I can tell you what you need to do." We all have much to learn from each other. In fact, one of the key themes in "Conquering the Generational Challenge" is that everyone's a learner and everyone's a teacher. Cross-mentoring (all generations mentoring all other generations) should be a vital part of your plan to create generational harmony in your organization.


"Conquering the Generational Challenge" (GenQuest Press) is available on It offers solutions for creating cross-mentoring programs in your business or organization. WTG Talent Solutions, LLC also offers a workshop that not only teaches people how to establish mentoring relationships but provides easy to use tools to ensure that the mentor relationships are successful. Contact us at if you would like to learn more about how we can help.

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