Leaders as Mentors

The origin of the word ´mentor´ can be found in Greek mythology. In the Odyssey homer introduces the old Mentor, into whose hands Odysseus entrusts the upbringing of his son Telemachus. Mentor and Telemachus commence a long lasting teacher-pupil relationship, which later inspired the meaning of the word – it was to signify a method for personal development and learning, specifically the process of handing over experience. The person who lets himself/herself be mentored is termed the ´mentee´.

Historical variations of mentoring can be found in the roles of old wise men, gurus, spiritual fathers, or in the relationship between masters and their apprentices. We can find modern forms of mentoring almost everywhere around us. Mentoring is used in education, politics and in business. Over our lives we establish naturally informal ties with persons that we can call our mentors, even though we may have never met them. Our mentors can thus be our favorite spiritual teacher, professor at school, or an important person in business that serves as an inspiration to us.

Forms of mentoring

If we focus on a formalized mentor-pupil relationship in the business sphere, we can observe that this relationship has been developed according to certain rules. Twenty years since the Velvet revolution, a new generation of mentors has formed, and therefore we can also find this style of personal development in the Czech Republic.

A business can choose between using its internal resources for the mentoring of its employees, or it can reach out to external resources. Both methods have their advantages.

Many larger organizations have a sufficient pool of experience and seniority, and thus they can cover mentoring needs with their own managers. More experienced managers take the less experienced ones under their wings, and hand over the knowledge that they have acquired in the given organization. In this way, organizations mentor their talented employees who show the potential for further development, and train the next generation of top managers in line with the ´know how´ and needs of the organization.

It is also advisable to apply internal mentoring to a new employee. In this way, a more experienced employee mentors the new colleague during his/hers first months, and helps him/her to become oriented to the new environment. This style of mentoring is surely motivational, and helps new employees overcome many of the initial obstacles they may face.

In contrast to this, external mentoring is applied to senior managers that have spent a large portion of their lives in one organization. An external mentor can widen a mentee´s horizons and bring new perspectives. Observing and learning different perceptions and values can give employees valuable inspiration and motivation.

The Process of Mentoring

At the beginning of every path, it is important to set a goal. Similarly, in mentoring, one should have a clear idea of what he/she wants to reach. The goals could be of a various kind: to broaden knowledge in a field of work, to teach or improve the ability of strategic thinking, or to work on self-confidence and assertiveness. Or the goal can simply be to provide feedback on ideas or personal style, as well as leadership and managerial skills. It can be useful to take minutes during the regular meetings with a mentor, and to refer to these notes before the next meeting. Every mentor has his/her personal style, just as every mentee has different needs. In order to build an effective partnership, there must be a certain degree of mutual understanding between the two.

Mentor as a hero

Mentors are usually people with some experience. We can call them true leaders. Leadership and mentoring are interconnected. For example, we can visit the world of fantasy. Are you familiar with the comedy show ´30 Rock´? One of the main characters, Jack, considers himself to be a true leader. Consequently, he sees himself as being a mentor. He chooses Liz Lemon, whom he leads and supports in various job-related tasks, as well as personal matters. Jack is an example of a self-confident leader, who is choosing his mentees very carefully. He says: They (the mentees) must be devoted and ambitious in order to merit my time; intelligent, in order to understand the challenges in front of them; humble, in order to except my help; and finally their life must be in total chaos. The last point is of course not a necessary condition for all those who want to be mentored. Yet one should be aware of the fact that every mentor is different in his or her views.

Another example of a positive hero – a mentor – is Obi-Wan Kenobi, who mentored both Skywalkers, Anakin and Luke. The mentoring of Luke starts immediately after their first meeting, when the experienced Jedi explains to young Luke the importance of the Power of the Force. From this moment, a strong bond between the teacher and the student developed, which deserves to be called Mentoring with a big ´M´. The example of Star Wars shows that one mentor can reach different results with his/her student. This may show that the role and experience of the mentor is certainly important, but in the end, mentoring is always about the personality of the pupil.
Eva Williams

Patron of European Leadership & Academic Institute (ELAI)

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