The Importance of a Mentor

You have to face it – you do not know everything!

The word “mentor” actually first appears in Greek mythology, when the old King Odysseus assigned a guardian to look after his son Telemachus.  The guardian was called Mentor and was assigned to Telemachus to guide him through the battles during the Trojan Wars.  He was there to provide Telemachus with valuable inputs and suggestions for how to lead and strategize.

There are probably more examples through ancient history where mentors were used, but I think this is a great example of the notion of a mentor.

For many, the idea of mentors and mentorship has largely been associated with the workplace, especially as you move into more managerial roles.

We use and engage with mentors in different aspects of our lives.

These mentors are extremely important and will provide you with support.  We are often not referring to these as mentors but may use role-models, spiritually, friends, and family interchangeably instead of the word mentor.

During my illness, God was my closest mentor.  I prayed for guidance and support to overcome my challenges, asking for advice and how to deal with my heart failure.  I’m not embarrassed to share that, and firmly believe we all pray or seek guidance in the divine.  I shared my burdens with God and he in return showed me the path forward.

Some mentors are used more frequently, and others are just consulted in certain circumstances or life events.

My most valuable and missed mentor is my dad.  Although I cannot no longer share my gratitude with him, as he passed away in 2010, but I learned tremendous amount of life skills from him.  Without him, I would not have achieved what I have.

We have many mentors in our lives.  It’s a bit like assembling a team of Avengers, where you have mentors to help you fight off various challenging obstacles and life events.

When kids grow up, the parents become their mentors.  We as parents help our kids succeed, share experiences and guide them through life’s challenges.  While we strongly encourage our kids to listen and learn, we also provide them the support they need to make their own decisions.  We may influence some of these, but it is to ensure that they make the decisions that will make them successful.

In your professional life, mentors play a vital role in your career growth and expanding your perspective on business in general.  Having a great mentor will often be a deciding factor in you climbing the ladder and your abilities to navigate the internal politics.

For many years I walked through my professional career without a mentor. Or did I?

While I had my successes, I found it difficult at times to really progress.  I now realize it was because I did not leverage the leaders around me, who could guide me.  I was young and did not place importance on the mentoring relationship.

I suddenly realized that people around many, often more senior people, we’re keen on helping me and provided guidance.  At first, I was perhaps a little annoyed that these leaders would correct me and felt that I was being unnecessarily adjusted.  I thought I was great at my job and didn’t need these influencers.

My first mentor was a great guy in Inventarland.  He was the owner of the company and may have come across as very strict and micromanaging … at first.  However, under his leadership and direction, I quickly started to excel in certain areas, and I started to appreciate the job more.

As I showed and proved my skills, he awarded me with more responsibilities, and at each step, he was always willing to listen and share his experiences.  He trusted me and allowed me to grow, and that made me appreciate his guidance more.

I probably never thanked him enough, but happy to share that I’m still in contact with him – even after all those years.

During my career with KPMG, I developed a great relationship with my boss (John Lenihan), and he became an irreplaceable mentor.  I worked directly with him for a decade and listened to everything he shared with me and followed his guidance closely.

It was his trust and support that helped me grow in my career.  My confidence grew and I completed more business projects successfully.

This encouragement really elevated my game and with his support, I took on Global challenges and moved to the US.

As my career got established in the US and in a new work culture (which is very different from Europe), I continued to leverage my trusted mentor in Ireland.  He was always reachable by email or phone.  It was a level of support that was sorely needed and ensured that my career stayed on track.

Moving country and a new organization really challenged my confidence levels.  But, his constant support and presence kept me encouraged and helped me excel again.

When it became time to reevaluate my career aspirations, he was by my side and provided excellent guidance.  We discussed what and how I should position myself, how to conduct myself and how to structure my resume.

Now I’m in a role that I’ve been seeking for the last few years, and working in a position where I’m leading others and becoming a mentor myself.  All this is a direct reflection of my great mentors.

I’ve had other mentors throughout the last 25 years of working in a professional environment, and each of these was selected based on the challenges I was facing and the guidance these individuals could share with me for those situations.

My advice and guidance, seek out mentors who can help you in your career – and sometimes provide some personal guidance too.  You may not like or agree with the suggestions, but you need to take their input and it will help you.

Trust them as they trust you!

Long story short – selecting a mentor is vital and you need to open your mind to new ways of thinking and to their inputs.  If you do not accept or incorporate their feedback, then your career will be a lot more complicated.

I try to use the same guidelines and techniques as my great mentors used, and also adjust it more to suit my personality and leadership style.

We all play important roles in nurturing our staff’s career aspirations and growth and need to mentor staff to achieve these.

But, it is the ownership of the individuals to leverage the mentor and seek out guidance.  It is not the responsibility of the mentor to make things happen for you, and for making the career goals happen.

Mentors guide and support.  Mentees listen, apply and excel.

What are your thoughts on mentorship?

How did you select a mentor, and why?

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