Men-tor (noun). Definition: 1) an experienced advisor and supporter; a person, usually older and more experienced, who advises and guides a younger, less experienced person; 2) a trainer, a senior or experienced person in a company or organization who gives guidance and training to a junior colleague.
Ment-ee (noun). Definition: a mentored person; someone who is mentored. (Encarta, 2009)
A mentor is someone from whom you can learn, directly or indirectly. It is a relationship which will continue as mentoring as long as both parties gain value from the interaction. It’s not always someone older who will be the mentor and it’s better that it is not simply giving advice. Greater value is obtained from a mentor who challenges a person’s thinking and helps them to develop themselves.
Traditionally, a mentor has been seen as a more senior person, originating from the myth of Mentor and Telemachus.
A mentor does not need to be an older person.
Ideally it does need to be someone you look up to for some reason. Perhaps that person has some experience you’d like to emulate or a skill you want to learn. Perhaps they have certain characteristics you’d like to develop in yourself. Maybe you just want to learn more about them because you see them as successful in some way and you could gain knowledge from how they succeeded. On that basis, it could be the mentor is a similar age to yourself or even younger. But they possess something you could gain from .. if you only knew how.
So, it’s more about the purpose of the mentoring than the age of the person doing the mentoring.
When I train mentors, this is the one image I need to disavow them of – that they are the sage who dispenses their wisdom, gratuitously or requested.
The value in a mentor is in NOT telling you what or how to do something. That is simply rudimentary and ineffective training for the most part.
A mentor’s best value is in developing your thinking processes to enable you to explore and discover the best solution yourself.
Feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day: teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
That’s the principle. A mentor is there to help you identify and understand, to bounce ideas and to challenge your thinking and assumptions.
A mentor can help to develop any skill or behaviour which they possess.
In summary, a mentor is someone who guides and informs one’s development within a general or specific area. It could be someone older, of equal age or even younger. A mentor is less inclined to give advice and is more inclined to ask questions rather than answer them with a view to helping the individual expand their thinking and develop more fully.