What exactly is a mentor?

July 27, 2021
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The original mentor was actually a character – Mentor – from Greek myth. In his old age, Mentor was a friend and trusted adviser to Odysseus during the Trojan wars. So trusted was Mentor by Odysseus, that on a couple of occasions the goddess of wisdom, Athena, even disguised herself as him when she wanted Odysseus to heed some particularly important advice.

Which is why the personal name Mentor has since been adopted into English as a term meaning someone who shares their wisdom and knowledge with someone less experienced.

Some may read that and immediately feel inadequate – “but I’m not sure I’m that wise!”, may well be a typical response from anyone who has volunteered or been asked to play the role of a mentor for the first time. The good news is that you don’t have to be an ‘expert’ or old, or any of the stereotypical images that such a role carries. All you need is a bit of experience, an honest approach and a willingness to learn fast and make others feel great.

Modern mentoring

The best way to view the role is to follow the structure of those who have gone before and paved the way to success for the rest of us.

One such person is David Clutterbuck, who is considered by many to be one of the leading exponents of modern mentoring, he devised this lovely mnemonic/acronym to help us remember what we need to focus on as a mentor.

M - Manage the relationship
E - Encourage
N - Nurture
T - Teach
O - Offer mutual respect
R - Respond to the learner's needs

Being a mentor is not the same as ‘telling someone what to do’ or training someone.

Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.

Human motivational drivers

It is one of the most satisfying human occupations because when it goes well it provides a deep sense of happiness and success. There are three base level human motivational drivers.

These are to nurture, to work things out and finally to compete to win. Mentoring gives the opportunity to access all three motivators, you will nurture someone, you will have to work out and apply process and you’ll certainly feel like a winner when your mentee develops beyond their own expectation at a pace that surprises everyone.

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