M is for Mentor

The term mentor comes from a character in Homer’s Odyssey.  Mentor, a trusted friend, was given the responsibility of guiding Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, while the hero was fighting the Trojan war.  The word refers to a relationship where wisdom and guidance are passed from one person to another.

Each of us has had mentors and has been a mentor.  Most of these relationships are informal mentoring.  Some are short-lived, and others last a lifetime.  Mentoring is part of the human experience, where we seek to have significant personal relationships.  Benefits are shared, the mentee gains knowledge and wisdom from a trusted relationship.  The mentor enjoys rejuvenation and pride of sharing experience, knowledge, and, hopefully, wisdom.

A mentoring program is different from an ambassador program, a coaching program, or a teaching program.  This differentiation becomes clear when the other programs are defined.

An ambassador represents a group, profession, or nation and facilitates interaction with that group, profession, or nation.  A mentoring program focuses on the mentee and the enrichment of the mentee.

Coaching programs are performance driven.  A coach helps improve a skill or a performance.  A mentor adopts the holistic approach toward an individual’s broad, long-term development.

Many teachers are mentors.  Teaching programs are curriculum driven, focusing on facts and theoretical applications.  Good mentoring programs focus on applying knowledge in practice and encourage the mentee’s development of adaptive skills.

Mentoring programs can be formal or informal.  Some companies or professions prescribe a set mentoring program.  Many professional “apprentice programs” are designed to encourage the transfer of wisdom and experience from a working professional to an apprentice or trainee.

Formal Mentoring Programs:

  • Formal programs often begin with an interview to determine compatibility.
  • Both parties agree to a Mission Statement. This encourages focus and can become a refence or benchmark as the relationship develops.  When companies establish the Mission Statement, the program is often a training program.  But a mentoring relationship may develop between the parties.
  • As the relationship is established, Mission Statements can change and evolve.
  • An agreement is made as to how often the parties will meet and the form of the meetings (i.e., in-person, email, Zoom, etc.)
  • A designated schedule is set for reviews or recaps of progress.
  • Some formal programs also have a reporting system to a sponsor or the company.

Upon graduation, my grandson accepted a job with a Fortune 500 Company.  He was assigned to a facility where one of the company’s products was manufactured using artificial intelligence and robotics.  Upon arrival at the plant, he was interviewed by the director of the plant and several operations supervisors.  Over lunch, he and one of the floor managers seemed to find a lot of common interests related to work.

The following day, my grandson and the floor manager reviewed the actual product manufacturing process at the plant and began discussing issues and bottlenecks.  Over the next week, they developed an inspection protocol and a game plan to define impediments to the “flow-through” process.

For the next six months, they met at a specified time each day.  When a new robotic line was installed, both worked 16-hour days for over a week.

Every week, my grandson and the floor manager documented their findings and discussed how to proceed.  Improvements and modifications were made to various systems.  Periodic reports were given to upper management and were included in my grandson’s biannual reviews.  Under the mentorship of the floor manager, my grandson developed the ability to apply knowledge in real situations.  The entire mentoring program was very formal and officially designed.

Informal Mentoring Programs:

Informal mentoring programs are more organic.  They are less structured and generally develop from a need, a conversation, a relationship, or a referral:

“Go talk to Ted, he knows all about buying notes at a discount.”

“If you are thinking about owning self-storage, I will give you Chuck’s number.”

These informal mentoring relationships can last for a single conversation or for years.  The structure of the “program” is more often implied than explicitly stated or reduced to writing.

The mentor/mentee relationship is fluid and can shift from one party to the other.  While Ted has knowledge and experience in structuring and buying notes and is a good mentor, the mentee may have special knowledge and wisdom to share about commercial leasing or marketing.

Informal programs can benefit from the ideas behind the more prescribed structure of the formal program.  Successful mentoring programs have common elements:

  • A Shared Vision: Both parties develop a rapport.  They understand and agree upon the mission or goal (written or implied).  They hold the same vision and have complementing values.  Both have confidence in the vision and will work toward success.
  • Commitment: Both parties must estimate the commitment required.  Mentoring takes time.  The mentor needs to be committed to the growth and development of the mentee.  The mentee is the focus of the program.  The mentee needs to be committed to the program.  Both parties need to make a commitment to themselves and to each other to devote the time, the work, and the resources required.
  • Mutual Respect and Trust: Mutual respect is necessary for a successful working relationship.  Although differences in wisdom and experience exist, shared values are important to build respect.  Prior to engagement, a frank discussion of values as they apply to the program is appropriate.Trust and respect are established over time by setting a good example.  “Do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it.”  Familiar parental advice . . .
  • Review: A review of progress and the initial vision gives perspective.  An assessment of the progress made and the road to that progress is a benefit for both the mentee and the mentor.  A review is good for physical projects as well as personal development projects.  Reviewing the initial vision is also important.  Ideas evolve; the creative process is fluid.

In a mentoring program, the mentee and the mentor celebrate victories together and share setbacks; mentoring is collaborative.

All persons referenced in the article are fictional, and any resemblance to actual individuals is coincidental.

Recommended reading:
The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Claire Diaz-Ortiz
The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungy
Mentoring 101 by John C. Maxwell
The Mentoring Manual by Julie Starr
Mentoring Programs That Work by Jenn Labin


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