According to mythology, Ulysses' son Telemachus learned his most significant lessons about life and about becoming an effective and much-loved ruler at the feet of an important and wise teacher, the great Mentor.
Since then, Mentor's name has been used to describe thousands of people who have shared their experience, expertise, and wisdom with others.
Hundreds of modern corporations have recognized this process as formal mentoring programs for their executives. In some, newly-hired managers are immediately assigned to a mentor, or told to find one on their own within a few months! In others, mentoring is considered the best way for high-level executives to groom and train their own replacements prior to promotion.
At Goldman Sachs, for example, newly-hired analysts and brokers are encouraged to volunteer for the company's mentor program. More than 500 mentors and proteges are presently involved. In fact, the new hires can have two different mentors, one to help them gain technical expertise, the other for guidance on corporate culture and career issues. According to Jim Morrison, a VP who has worked on the mentoring program since its inception several years ago, regular survey evaluations prove the program to be a tremendous success.
At Matsushita, where managers are routinely sent overseas for several years, each one is assigned a mentor at the home office. The mentor keeps the manager informed of home office activities, protects the manager's interests there, and simplifies the problems of re-entry.
There are also public mentoring programs available through some offices of the Small Business Administration, or local civic organizations.
What's the difference between mentoring and other forms of teaching, learning, and sharing? It's mostly a matter of intensity and commitment. Generally, a mentor agrees to be an appropriate combination of a coach, a confidant, a sounding board, and a counselor to someone he or she deems worthy of this attention, and to be available at odd hours for intensely personal discussion and problem-solving.