The concept of mentorship traces back to the character of Mentor in Greek Mythology in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus, King of Ithica, asks his trusted companion, Mentor, to keep watch over his son, Telemachus, while he is away. Mentor acts as a guide to Telemachus, supporting him in his father’s absence. The term mentor then became used more widely for a trusted guide who imparts wisdom and shares their knowledge.
In the Middle Ages, mentorship became popular with apprenticeships in trade work. It wasn’t until the 1970s that mentorship made its way into the business world. Though the stakes may not be the same as they were in ancient Greek civilization, mentorship plays a key role in career growth and success.
What Is the Role of a Mentor?
A mentor is someone with more experience than the mentee who passes along their knowledge and experience in the field the mentee aspires to work in. The role of the mentor is to guide the mentee throughout their career progression.
It’s also important to note that anyone at any stage in their career can—and should—have a mentor. According to a Harvard Business Review survey, 84% of CEOs with formal mentor relationships were more likely to avoid costly mistakes and became efficient in their roles more quickly, and 71% of CEOs attribute their improved performance to their mentors.
How Does Mentorship Work?
Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Boston University, Kathy E. Kram, in her research on mentorship in the corporate world, lists four phases of the mentoring process: initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition. According to Kram, mentorship is an ongoing exchange that moves between these four phases.
The initiation phase is when the relationship is established, and trust is built between the mentee and mentor. Cultivation is when more frequent interactions and collaboration occur (this stage can last 2-5 years). Separation is when the mentee begins to operate more independently from the mentor, and the redefinition stage is when the relationship shifts from mentorship to peer.
The mentorship relationship should also have specific and measurable goals, frequent interaction, and actionable steps. There should be a clear desired outcome for both the mentee and the mentor.
What Are the Benefits of Mentorship?
There are proven benefits to mentorship for both the mentee and the mentor. Mentorship increases retention and overall job satisfaction. In fact, 25% of employees who enrolled in a mentoring program saw a salary increase, and mentees are promoted five times more often than those not in mentoring programs.
Further, high-potential mentoring is a way to nurture top talent and develop them for potential future leadership roles. There is a reason that 71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs. The statistics don’t lie.
Mentorship can also help with:
- Networking opportunities: Mentors will have been in the industry much longer than the mentee and have developed relationships with others in their field. They have a whole network of people to introduce to the mentee and can expose them to more career opportunities.
- Support system: Mentorship offers a built-in support system, which is essential in any career or industry. It positively impacts mental health and improves self-confidence and self-esteem. In the early days of entrepreneurship especially, mentorship can alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Accountability: A mentor holds their mentee accountable to their goals. This may mean verbally checking in with how progress is going. It also means both parties hold one another accountable; if the mentor is not prioritizing the mentorship, it’s the mentee’s job to check in. Accountability is critical for success.
- Confidence: Mentorship provides confidence as the mentee begins to develop their skills and autonomy. It also helps build leadership skills for both the mentor and mentee and adds to their qualifications, increasing their eligibility for new positions.
It’s also important to remember that mentorship does not always work out. The initiation phase of mentorship is the time to assess whether the mentee and mentor are compatible and can offer something of value to one another. Mentorships can also end at any stage. Mentorship is a form of leadership. It is a way for those with more experience to give back to the company and leave behind a legacy from their own experiences. It also helps foster a sense of community and belonging within a corporation.
“Your legacy is every life you’ve touched. It’s every person you’ve harmed or helped.”