What is a Mentor?

What is a mentor

I once worked for a large firm that had a formal counseling program and an informal mentoring program.  This often confused new employees.  But once it was explained, it made sense.

Since the consulting firm was a matrixed organization, a counselor was someone at the next-higher level that gathered project reviews of the people he or she counseled.  If you worked on four projects in a year, you may have had four different managers and reviews.

The counselor was responsible for:

  • Gathering all of the person’s reviews for the year
  • Meeting with the reviewers to fill in any gaps or questions
  • Writing a consolidated review that evaluated the counselee on a 1-5 scale
  • Representing the counselee in a round table that evaluated the entire pool of people at the same level and forced a bell-shaped curve (few 4s, fewer 5s, mostly 3s, and a couple of 1s and 2s that needed to be dealt with).
  • Meeting with each counselee to give a year-end review

Counselors were strictly there to administer the review process.

There was no formal mentoring program.  Instead, an employee was expected to seek someone out that could be a mentor, to advise on an as-needed basis. Employees could turn to their counselor for mentoring, which often happened. But the firm was smart enough to know that someone they assign to an employee should only serve the more administrative role; gather information, represent the person to management and give the employee their review.

They realized that a mentor should be someone that is chosen by the mentee; not assigned. I counseled three to four people at any given time.  It also turned into a mentoring relationship. I would meet with new consultants, answer questions, and provide business coaching to them.

See my related post: A Mentoring Role Reversal

It could turn out that you didn’t want your counselor as a mentor. It could be a miss-match in care

er goals, the counselor didn’t have the time, or maybe the counselor was just a jerk. You were allowed – and even encouraged – to seek others out for mentors.

This led people to ask, What is a Mentor?

A mentor is simply anyone who coaches you or gives you advice on something.  Some companies assign mentors like my former firm assigned counselors.  That can sometimes be successful, but it usually works much better if the relationship is driven by the mentee.

You can lead a horse to water but did the horse ask for water?

When a new employee joins an organization and is assigned someone to be her mentor.  The implication is that that one person is your mentor.  If there’s any advice you want, that’s the person you have to go to.  Oh, and by the way, it gives the mentor free reign to give you advice…whether you asked for it or not. If the two of you have trouble developing a rapport or if you don’t like the mentor’s advice, there is usually recourse.  You can apply for another mentor. But that can be awkward for any future dealings with that person, especially if it’s your boss.

Mentoring can sometimes go to one’s head.  Some people decide that as a mentor, they will give advice to shape this young person into the same successful person they have become.  Let’s hope the mentee has the same aspirations as the mentor.

New mentoring program: Have a question?

Ask someone who knows.

What if we just encouraged people to ask questions of experts when they struggled with anything.  Perhaps you were just assigned to develop a budget and don’t know where to start.  Ask someone.  Are you a baby boomer that doesn’t know much about Twitter?  Ask a member of generation-Y.  Everybody has some unique knowledge that can be used to teach, coach or mentor someone else.

Rather than establishing mentoring relationships, how about establishing mentoring networks?  You can mentor multiple people; multiple people can mentor you. It doesn’t matter what your rank is within the organization or what your age is for that matter.  People with higher ranks and more years of experience may have some knowledge to share with younger, less-experienced folks.

Someone twenty years younger than you may have some knowledge that you would like to learn.  If you swallow your pride a little, you can mentor each other.

Mentoring can be as simple as one question asked and answered, or a relationship that lasts twenty years. It’s not as much about the relationship as it is about information and learning.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

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