Mentor was the name of the adviser of the young Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey. A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. In the workplace, mentoring usually involves providing counsel to colleagues. Mentoring relationships may be purely informal one-offs or imply a deeper investment for both mentor and mentee. For mentoring relationships to deepen and become sustainable requires mutual identification and recognition.
The organization does not currently formally prescribe or support mentoring. And, for some of us, at times we have had to find our own way because there was no one to turn to for guidance or support. Yet, most of us can recall how support, counsel and advice received from more experienced colleagues both helped collaboration and furthered our individual development. By exploring when and how we received mentoring, we can better envision how the organization might be able to recognize and support it.
Line managers may be de facto mentors, although this role overlaps in complex ways with the guidance, direction and leadership as well as evaluation and feedback they are responsible for. When our line manager takes the time to provide context and explanation, we find this helpful. Unlike other relationships with colleagues, which require prior negotiation, turning to your line manager for guidance and support is perceived as legitimate. And, in fact, in our resource-scarce context, there is often no one else to turn to.
Some of us find mentors amongst our external partners as well as trusted colleagues and friends who may in completely different areas of work. Such mentoring relationships with people outside our immediate work environment provide additional benefits by connecting us to other ways of thinking and doing.
Photo: Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney Australia (Ajith/flickr.com)