The historical traces of how mentorship evolved are not particularly clear. The word mentor comes from Homer’s Odyssey, where Mentor is entrusted to look after Odysseus’ household, and watch over and teach his son, Telemachus. In the modern world, mentoring has been used as a career development strategy since the mid-1970’s.
Who is a Mentor?
A mentor is typically a more experienced professional who shares experience, expertise, knowledge, and skill with a mentee. A mentor can successfully help examine career decisions and goals, while also offering advice about any professional problems a mentee might encounter.
While a mentor is usually someone who works in the same organization, it is not uncommon for people to choose mentors from the same industry, but not the same workplace. Incidentally, a mentor does not necessarily have to be from the same realm – just as long as you feel you have something to learn that will help further your professional or personal life.
How Can a Mentor Help?
A good mentor can help you perform at your optimum best, while encouraging you to effectively address your strengths and weaknesses. Here’s what you can look forward to if you find the right mentor:
- Insight into areas of improvement. Mentors often identify spheres of improvements that we cannot. You can expect your mentor to be completely honest with you, telling you just where you might seem lacking. Constructive criticism I received from my mentor, Gav Smythe, founder of iCompareFX, helped me identify shortcomings that I did not know of until then. Improvement followed.
- Knowledge and information. Entrepreneurs are often found wanting when it comes to carving out business plans, handling day-to-day operations, and effectively managing budgets. With a mentor to guide you, you’ll have access to a sea of knowledge and information that can help you tide over a variety of roadblocks you might face. This, of course, does not apply only to entrepreneurs, but practically any newbie.
- Doors opening. With the right mentor, you get to tap into an existing pool of business contacts. As someone who is getting started on the professional bandwagon, getting to meet government officials or senior executives can be challenging. This is where a mentor’s ability to open doors comes into the picture.
- Different perspectives. Discussing your experiences with your mentor gives you the ability to view matters from a different perspective. For instance, a situation you perceive as dire might not really warrant your attention, which you get to find out through your mentor’s objective point of view. By offering insight into their own successes and failures, mentors can give you means to navigate seemingly tough challenges.
- Stimulate growth. Steven Spielberg famously said that, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” Gav would often get me thinking about different work and life-related aspects, and ask me to get back to him later. He would observe me at different times, telling me what might work for me and what might not. Most of the goals he set for me were mine to accomplish alone.
I’ve noticed that a good mentor will stretch you, not quite to test your limits, but so you may improve your skills and have a more fulfilling experience. While a mentor can guide you in the right direction, don’t expect one to make decisions for you. Instead, look forward to a relationship that will empower you in different ways.