Is a Mentor Essential for Personal Development?

The Webster Dictionary defines a mentor as: someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often youmentorimagesnger person. What this suggests is, for instance,  that teachers or lecturers are not necessarily mentors, that the mentor is not automatically older, and may be younger than the mentoring recipient but most importantly, that lack of experience in the given field is  mandatory for a mentoring relationship to come about . So what is actually involved in the mentoring process?

Six Facts About Mentoring

1. Is mentoring essential for developing one’s talents fully?

Indeed it is. Throughout the ages,  the most efficient model for passing on in-depth expertise between generations has been the mentoring model whereby an expert passes on his knowledge to his inexperienced, younger protege. A father-son, or parenting relationship of dominance and submissiveness then follows for some years until the protege has absorbed so much knowledge from the master that he/she operates at the same level as the master.

2. Must the relationship be restricted to the mentor’s  field of expertise?

Whilst mentorship involves the passing down of many years’ accumulated knowledge and expertise in a given field, it may just involve instruction in one aspect, such as problem-solving, which can be applied in many fields of activity, or as a general life skill. An example is the after-hours teaching of basic principles of philosophy, in order to develop good reasoning abilities which can be applied in almost any situation. Think of Socrates and Pluto.

3. Is life-long mentoring advantageous?

The relationship between the mentor and his subject is by its nature and definition a long one that typically spans more than 3 years. And so, the fact that it is such a close one, may lead to the development of strong emotional ties. These ties are important as they heighten learning. However, were the relationship to become fossilized as it were, at the original level of dominance/submission, then the entire objective of passing down expanded knowledge to the next generation would be lost. By expanded knowledge is meant that at some time during the mentorship, the mentee infuses the knowledge he receives with his own unique talents, thus breathing new life into it. At this stage a tension develops as the protege starts to strain at the bonds tying him to his mentor as well as the need to conform to the former’s way of doing things. If a life-long friendship comes out of this, then it is one between equals who have enriched their field, each with unique interpretations of it.

4. Must there be a positive emotional connection between your mentor and you?

Many studies have shown that a deep emotional connection of mutual affection and respect enhances the success of the mentoring project. This has even been proved by the neurophysiological finding of mimicry nerves that have the student unconsciously using gestures and/ or poses of an admired superior. Thus feel-good emotions between mentor and mentee easily lead to hard-wiring of lessons learned.

5. Do feelings of antagonism towards your mentor impede the relationship?

As was mentioned above, an important finding is that antagonism towards your mentor is a by-product of a successful mentorship, especially towards its end. This phase obviously requires insight and maturity from both parties. It is deemed largely necessary in that by this stage the mentee is transforming to become a potential mentor in his own right. And that mastery is at hand.

6. Does mentoring always mean a 0ne-on-one interaction?

In this digital age, mentoring can be done without the human touch via books, especially e-books, e-courses and webinars. These can be highly effective, given mentee commitment, as well as in reaching a larger number of mentees. That said, the person-to-person mentoring environment has proven to be the best for successful outcomes.

How to get a mentor

The majority of the larger multinational companies have mentorship programs that run in-house. Former teachers, professors, senior colleagues, even friends or third party contacts can make wonderful mentors if properly selected. For the individual, there are also many online sites on connecting with a mentor. The majority of these online opportunities are mentor-driven, but the more fulfilling ones are the mentee-driven sites in terms of finding the perfect fit for the emotional comfort and multidimensional growth of the potential mentee.

Thabo Seseane.

Author of the biography   “Similar Demons Lie Vanquished”.

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