Modern Mentoring Matters
By Chelse Benham
“Nothing is so infectious as example.” – Francois La Rochefoucauld, (1613 –
1680) French classical author who is best known for his maxims and epigrams
and a cynical observer of Louis XIV's court.
Mentoring is one of the oldest forms of influence. The term dates back to Homer
and Greek mythology. In “Odyssey” Homer’s Mentor was a wise and trusted
figure who displayed the admirable qualities of counselor, teacher, nurturer,
protector, advisor and role model towards Odysseus’s son Telemachus.
According to Urie Bronfenbrenner, Jacob Gould Sherman professor of Human
Development and Family Studies at Cornell University, he gives this explanation:
“A mentor is an older, more experienced person who seeks to further the
development of character and competence in a younger person by guiding the
latter in acquiring mastery of progressively more complex skills and tasks in
which the mentor is already proficient. The guidance is accomplished through
demonstration, instruction, challenge and encouragement on a more or less
regular basis over an extended period of time. In the course of this process, the
mentor and the young person develop a special bond of mutual commitment. In
addition, the young person’s relationship to the mentor takes on an emotional
character of respect, loyalty and identification.”
Bronfenbrenner’s definition is a mouth full, but it sums up the multifaceted parts
to a “wholistic” process that occurs between mentor and protégé.
There are many work-based learning programs besides mentoring which include
youth apprenticeship, internship, job shadowing and cooperative education. The
distinction between mentoring and other forms of counseling/support is,
“mentoring is a relationship in which a more experienced person facilitates the
broad development of a less experienced person on a regular basis and over an
extended period of time.” (U.S. Congress 1995, p.22)
According to Aoife Rogers, corporate trainer, the most crucial element of
mentoring is the one-on-one participation between mentor and protégé.
Mentoring can be helpful to new employees, recent graduates and isolated
individuals, such as stay-at-home workers. Let’s look at the benefits for the
Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) endorse mentorship programs. It
outlines the benefits to both mentors and protégés.
Benefits for mentors might include:
• opportunities to share experiences.
• personal reward gained from helping someone with their career.
• feedback about projects from a junior person eager to commit to the
• an opportunity to coach future professionals and to interact with the very
people that will shape the future of your industry.
• building loyal contacts within the industry.
Benefits for protégés might include:
• preparation for the transition from college into the work place.
• building self-image and self-confidence.
• being provided a well-developed networking base of professional contacts.
• creating career opportunities.
• acquiring reference letters.
• gaining an understanding of business policies, ethics and etiquette.
The goal of working with a mentor of your choice is to obtain information about
the mentor’s career path and work environment. WISE suggests that you find a
mentor with whom you most identify and can learn from. Mentors may provide
advice, support and guidance on the following:
• industry and job information
• description of their day to day duties
• career alternatives within the industry
• emerging trends
• skills and experiences to help the protégé’s development
• access to professional contacts
Mentoring isn’t just for students and recent graduates. Seasoned professionals
can benefit greatly by seeking a mentor. A newcomer to an office can be
provided support, guidance, feedback and a network of colleagues who share
similar resources, insights, practices and materials. Wanting a mentor and finding
a mentor is not the same thing. How does someone find a mentor that’s best for
them? At AdvancingWomen.com three approaches are given:
• The Direct Approach is just that, direct. Search out the person you most
admire in your field and ask to speak to him or her. Explain your seeking a
mentor and politely ask the person if they will agree to mentor you. Most
people are flattered to be asked and are willing to help you.
• The Electronic Support System is not as warm and personal as a
mentor in the flesh, but sites on the Internet like Advancing Women, and
its Journal, Advancing Women in Leadership, were designed as electronic
support systems for women to help them meet their many, multi-faceted
challenges. If you read and follow the advice given, you will be reaping the
benefits of successful women with deep experience who are, in effect,
mentoring you electronically. If you want specific advise, don't be shy, ask
for it. You can do this by writing to the editor and asking if the web site will
address a particular issue.
• Mentor yourself. The old adage that everything you need to know is
inside yourself. Just focus on the areas you need to develop and then do
whatever it takes to make yourself into the person you aspire to be. Read
biographies of famous people you most want to emulate. Imitation is the
highest form of flattery. Imitate what has worked.
• Seek out mentoring programs in your company. Research to see if
there are any mentorship programs available in the company. If not,
perhaps you can start one.
Mentoring gets results for a company by:
• building potential in less experienced employees.
• developing a versatile, multi-skilled workforce.
• promoting leadership and vision for the company’s future.
Once you have found a mentor you need to clarify your relationship and goals. At
www.nsdc.org you can find suggested steps for structuring a mentor relationship.
1. Clarify the role of the mentor as one who supports and facilitates
resource sharing, problem solving and feedback.
2. Decide on the mentor’s role and responsibilities.
3. Agree on the structure for mentoring. When do you meet? How
4. Set firm goals to be achieved during the mentoring process.
At WISE, questions are provided to help create a more effective mentoring
situation and help you get the most out of the experience. Just a few questions
are listed here.
• Questions related to a career
o How did you prepare for this field and do you have any
• Questions related to a position
o What gives you a sense of accomplishment in your job?
• Industry-related questions
o What are the professional organizations in this field?
• Questions related to the working conditions
o What are the work hours and is overtime common?
Mentoring programs provide valuable professional growth to both mentor and
protégé. Ravencroft Management Consultants explains it this way: “Mentoring
can create the conditions to motivate others to promote needed change and
systematically develop skills and competencies of the less experienced while
offering intrinsic and extrinsic rewards to the mentor. Summed up: It’s a win-win
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi