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A mentor shares their knowledge, expertise, perspective, and guidance with others to foster personal and professional growth.  A mentor is often defined as “a trusted counselor or guide” or “a wise, loyal advisor or coach.” The action of mentoring itself is classified as one-to-one encouragement, advice, or befriending for an individual.

Mentoring began in ancient Greek methodology. Around 1200 B.C. Odysseus was leaving for the siege of Troy when he appointed his friend, Mentor, to be a surrogate father to his son, Telemachus. Historical records show that skills, culture, and values in preparation for manhood were learned in this paired relationship. Craft guilds founded in the Middle Ages show examples of mentoring. Young men were apprenticed to master craftsmen working in specific professions such as merchandising, law, or goldsmithing. These apprenticeships were forerunners to the employer/employee relationship models found in the industrial society.

Today a wide range of employers acknowledge that their leaders and employees need someone to support them, to learn cultural norms, and navigate the political landscape of an organization.  The demand for mentors is growing. Many organizations offer mentoring programs to provide a mentor for onboarding new employees, developing high potentials and successors, and supporting new project teams.

Mentoring relationships provide great benefits for both the mentor and the protégé!  Developing a mentoring relationship provides an opportunity to share and explore highly confidential challenges, problems, and difficulties the protégé might be experiencing.

Creating a mentoring program for minority or diverse groups provides opportunities to build relationships with leaders and break down barriers that prevent them from growing in their careers and getting recognized for their talent.

If you would like to have a mentor, here are a few suggestions on how to ask someone to be your mentor. 

You would like to change or expand your role or career and need help deciding how to take the next step. Consider asking someone you and respect if they would be willing to be your mentor – this could be a friend, relative, or someone you would like to network with.  Tell them why you are looking for a mentor and ask how they could help you.  Explain that a mentor is someone who provides support and insight based on their experience.  Let them know you would value learning from them.  Plan the meeting and prepare some questions.  Set some ground rules on how you will meet, what their role is and yours, how much time it will take, and how long the mentoring engagement will last.  Perhaps it will be only a meeting or two, or maybe you would like to receive mentoring for several months. If you are new to a company and would like to break through the barriers new employees face and need to learn quickly about the organization structure, operations, norms, and culture, ask your manager to refer you to someone in the organization who might be willing to mentor you.  Arrange for a meeting and explain the purpose and why you would like a mentor.

If you are new to the industry, ask to meet with several leaders to mentor you to gain insight into each function within the organization. Let’s say you want a mentor but don’t know who to ask – think about people you admire, those who are successful, achievers, have a lot of experience, or have overcome a lot of challenges.  Perhaps, they would be willing to be your mentor.  Identify a purpose for the mentoring relationship and a set of questions you’d like to ask.  Explain the purpose of a mentor and why this is important to you.  Ask them if they have the time and are willing to be your mentor.  Establish roles, goals, timelines, and norms.

My last suggestion for asking for a mentor is when you start a new project and you are working with a team.  Make sure a member of the team is a senior leader who has a vested interest in the outcome of the project.  Having a member of the senior leadership team as a mentor on the project will help the team be more successful in getting resources, gaining commitment, and implementing actions.

Just remember, people enjoy helping and mentoring others.  It is just as rewarding to them as it is to you.  They gain a reputation as a helpful mentor and effective leader

In closing, here’s a poem I wrote several years ago:

Please Mentor Me

Please mentor me to develop the courage to dream and the conviction to carry it through.

Please mentor me to discover things about myself I may not know.

Please mentor me to assess my shortcomings and develop new skills and attributes.

Please mentor me to face challenges and make effective decisions.

Please mentor me to gain acceptance in a culture that may not value me or recognize my talents.

Please mentor me to provide direction when I’m headed down the wrong path.

Please stand up for me when I need an advocate so that I can develop the courage and self-esteem to withstand adversity.

Please mentor me so someday I may grow to be like you!

Author:  Dr. Nancy Zentis, CEO,

Institute of Organization Development

www.instituteod.com

About the Author

Dr. Nancy Zentis is the Chief Strategist and CEO of the Institute of Organization Development (IOD), offering online certification programs for those interested in the field of Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and Professional Development.  As a consultant, Nancy has developed Mentoring Programs and helped many leading organizations implement formal mentoring programs.  If you would like more information, contact Nancy at  nancy.zentis @instituteod.com.  For more information about our certification programs and short courses, visit our website www.instituteod.com.