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Mentors and Mentoring: What is a mentor?



A friend of mine called the other day to tell me he had been promoted to Engineering Manager for a large, national, environmental services and consulting firm. I shared his good news and thought to myself about the years we had worked together. I remembered the day I hired him as a field engineer, his first professional job.

He has worked hard to get where he is. He is intelligent and good with people. He was a quick study and I enjoyed sharing my experience and knowledge with him. I may have been his first mentor, but I wasn't his last. Yet it got me to thinking about the importance of mentors.

So, in this series of articles, we look at what a mentor is, how to find one, and how to be a mentor. I welcome your thoughts and stories on this topic as well. **


The original Mentor is a character in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. When Odysseus, King of Ithaca went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his kingdom to Mentor. Mentor served as the teacher and overseer of Odysseuss’ son, Telemachus.

Definition of A Mentor

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines a mentor as "a trusted counselor or guide." Katherine Lewis, About.com's Guide for Working Moms, expands on that and defines a mentor as "someone who is helping you with your career, specific work projects or general life advice out of the goodness of his or her heart. My definition of mentor includes altruism and some sense of "paying it forward" since most mentors have themselves been mentored in the past."

Application of Mentoring Principles

One of the most valuable assets your career can have is a good mentor. A mentor is an individual, usually older, always more experienced, who helps and guides another individual’s development. This guidance is not done for personal gain.

Mentoring is used in many settings. Although it is most common in business, we see its use in many other settings. For example:



At Risk Youth

More Business Mentoring Details

In subsequent articles we will look at ways to find a mentor, and the requirements you must meet if you want to be a mentor.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, or if there is an issue you would like us to address, please post them on our Management Forum to share with the entire group.

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