Mentoring has been a part of the corporate world for many years. When a young person came on board, someone would be assigned to him/her to offer advice. Not just anyone could be a mentor either, they had to demonstrate knowledge and skills for a specific line of work. Most enjoyed being a mentor as they saw it as a sort of “Big Brother/Sister.” From a corporate perspective, it was hoped the senior person would also pass on such things as ethics and decorum, basically a lot of “do’s” and “don’ts” thereby expediting the young person’s maturation and acclimation into the corporate culture and groom the next generation of employees in a smooth and consistent manner. Unfortunately, things started to go awry by the 1990’s whereby mentoring not only disappeared from the corporate landscape, but generational warfare erupted pitting the older workers against their younger counterparts. You could blame this on a variety of things, such as the bean counters who eliminated mentoring and training programs in order to save a buck or two, or on radical changes in Information Technology whereby older workers understood mainframes and legacy systems, while the younger workers rebelled with PC’s and networking. Regardless, an adversarial relationship emerged by the latter part of the 20th century.

Interestingly, mentoring is making a comeback in the corporate world, but it’s not quite the same as before. True, the older employees are taking the younger people under their wings, but there isn’t the same trust between mentor and protégé as there was years ago. Due to changing socioeconomic conditions in our country, both sides are suspicious of the other. Older workers are concerned that the young “upstarts” are going to force them out to pasture. Younger workers are also cognizant the older workers can no longer afford to retire and, as such, are working longer thereby complicating an already overcrowded job market. In other words, the young apprentice of today may become tomorrow’s adversary which, in turn, puts into question the advice being given by the mentor and the young person’s reception to it.

The chemistry between the mentor and protégé is important. Minor incompatibilities are to be expected, particularly between generations, but major differences will cause the mentoring program to become counter productive. One party has to be willing to teach, and the other has to be willing to learn; one has to be credible and authoritative, and the other must possess an inquisitive mind. If there is a clash of personalities or the parties involved put forth minimal effort, the program will self-destruct. This of course means there should be some administrative control over the mentoring program, particularly in the assignment of people and monitoring progress.

I do not know which duty is more difficult, the mentor or the mentee (the protégé). Both carry different responsibilities:

As to the mentee, when you consider the level of competition in the world today, it is your duty as the apprentice or student to challenge your mentor or coach and exceed their expectations, to go beyond them and move to the next level of your personal development. Simply satisfying the status quo is not sufficient, you must strive to rise above it, otherwise your development will stagnate and you will disappoint your mentor.

The person selected to become mentor should be mature and understand the responsibility he/she is being asked to perform. If they cannot devote the necessary time to it or makes light of the responsibility, there is little hope for success. The mentor must grasp the significance of the job and push the protégé to grow beyond their current capabilities. As such, be careful not to give misleading advice. Know your limitations and encourage the protégé to find their next stage of development. If not with you, then another.

The mentor program has a lot of benefits, but like anything, it depends on how much effort is exerted to make it successful. A mentor in name only is not a reliable program. It must be carefully thought out and administered to assure it is working. Key to this is the match up of mentor and mentee. Again, not everybody possess the skills for being a mentor, and not every young person can accept advice and constructive criticism. Then again, the person’s ability to adapt to the company should have been a consideration as part of their hire.

Mentoring is more than just passing on important knowledge, it’s passing on the culture of the company, the history of the industry, and survival tips for life in general. If the mentor has done a good job, he should be thanked with some small token of appreciation, by both the mentee and the company. As a young person, you would be wise to remember all of the people who helped you on your journey through life. After all, you carry with you a little bit of each person who has guided you.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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