How to take people under your wing

The term ‘mentor’ is derived from Homer’s classic, Iliad. Before Odysseus, king of Ithaca, left his family and went to fight in the Trojan War, he asked an old and trusted friend, Mentor, to raise his son, Telemachus, to succeed him as a wise and good ruler. To do so, Mentor had to become a father figure, teacher, role model, trusted adviser, challenger, encourager, and counsellor. Individuals will need to be 'mentored' in your organisation - nurtured in growth and development. This advice will help...

1. Understand why mentoring is required.

Try to see mentoring not as a program but as a way of life. Mentors can play a variety of roles. They can:

  • help new staff members to feel part of the organisation.
  • provide information about the way the organisation ‘really’ works.
  • help protégés set goals, plan careers, and develop the skills necessary for career advancement.
  • listen to problems, calm fears, provide feedback, and boost the confidence of their protégés.
  • provide a role model for protégés to observe and emulate.

Although you may act as the mentor, you can still enlist the support of others (workmates - ‘buddies’, if you prefer) in helping to provide general support.

2. Consider the needs of newcomers.

Mentoring should be a consideration when a new employee is set to join your organisation. But remember, you can’t possibly act in that role for every newcomer. Before a new employee arrives, you (or the designated mentor) should:

  • make contact with the employee, complete introductions, and generally make the employee feel welcome. Don’t forget, one of the most common reasons for people leaving an organisation is that they feel they do not fit.
  • arrange a meeting to determine any particular needs the new employee may have, provide any preliminary reading that may be of assistance, and explain the mentoring function. If you’re involved in these preliminaries but are not going to be the mentor, tell the employee who will be.
  • do everything you can to make the employee feel part of the organisation during the first two weeks.
  • remain available for questions while encouraging independence, and take an active interest in the new employee’s work, reading, etc.

3. Identify and encourage rising stars.

Though your open management style will encourage most employees, some will have qualities and potential that impress you more than others. Such people have a great deal to offer the organisation if their talents are nurtured and developed. They will be the ones you are more likely to take under your wing.

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