What is a mentor?

What is a mentor?

Hints in Human Resources Ramona Pulce What Is a Mentor? Webster’s dictionary defines mentor as a person looked upon for wise advice and guidance. In ...

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Hints in Human Resources Ramona Pulce

What Is a Mentor? Webster’s dictionary defines mentor as a person looked upon for wise advice and guidance. In the historical sense, a mentor is viewed as • A loyal friend, confidant, and advisor • A teacher, guide, coach, and role model • Entrusted with the care and education of another • Having knowledge and advanced or expert status and being attracted to and nurturing a person of talent and ability • Willing to give away what he or she knows in a noncompetitive way • Representing skill, knowledge, virtue, and accomplishment In short, a mentor is a cheerleader, coach, confidante, guide, resource/referral agent, advocate, and role model. Most successful people have or had a mentor; in many cases, successful people have had many. A mentor can provide the wisdom of a lifetime without the pain of obtaining it. The most effective mentors • Welcome newcomers into their profession and take a personal interest in their career development • Want to share their knowledge, materials, skill, and experience with those they mentor • Offer support, challenge, patience, and enthusiasm as they guide the ones they mentor to a new level of competence • Point the way and represent tangible evidence of what the mentee can become if he or she works hard • Expose the recipients of their mentoring to new ideas, perspectives, standards, and the values and norms of the profession • Are more expert in terms of knowledge but view themselves as equal to those they mentor August 2005

Mentoring has been around for thousands of years. The concept comes from Greek mythology; in Homer’s Odyssey, the wise and trusted counselor that Odysseus trusted with the care of his son, Telemachus, was named Mentor. Mentor was more than a teacher; he was half-god, half-man, half-male, and half-female; believable, yet unreachable. Mentor was the union of both goal and path; wisdom personified. Now, 3,500 years later, mentoring relationships are still valued. In many professions, mentors are believed to augment if not ensure the professional development and success of talented newcomers. To be a mentor, you have to be a good role model and competent. In order to achieve competence, you must stay current in your area or specialty and continually learn what is new in your field. Character is important as well—if you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. Why is this necessary? If you don’t, there will be no trust. If there is no trust, who will want to follow your advice? You must also have adequate experience to become a mentor to someone. Have you faced major problems? Have there been situations that have stretched you? You have learned from trial and error and working through adversity. When a protégé is engrossed in a dilemma or in achieving a goal, he or she can become weighed down by the enormity. A mentor can help him or her see the way through the crisis because the mentor can see the proverbial big picture. A mentor can advise and lend encouragement as well as assist in problem-solving to avoid unnecessary snares. Mentors often put things into perspective for protégés. When things become difficult, someone who does not have the guidance that a mentor provides may desert the plan. The protégé has not had the experiences Nurse Leader 9

that a mentor has had and often needs words of wisdom to stay on track. The exciting thing for a mentor is that the protégé is usually very eager to learn and absorb all of the knowledge being imparted through this relationship. A mentor serves as a resource and should provide information and guidance, ask questions, and give feedback. A mentor also has to listen and evaluate the progress of the protégé, helping him or her make adjustments when needed. One of the benefits of mentoring is that the protégé’s energy, excitement, and passion becomes contagious, energizing the mentor as well. Before beginning a mentoring relationship, both parties should discuss and agree on expectations and goals. Each should commit the time required while respecting each other’s time. Each should also hold the other accountable, even if it’s uncomfortable. It’s also all right for a mentor to make a mistake, but that person

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needs to own up to it when it happens so that the protégé will know that he or she is human and does not believe himself or herself to be perfect. When holding each other accountable, the conversation must revolve around actions, behavior, and outcomes, not the people involved. A mentor will not be effective if he or she is unwilling to speak the truth. Not telling a protégé what he or she needs to hear will prevent that one from growing. Interpersonal skills are critical in a mentoring relationship. A successful mentoring partnership may start on a superficial level, but it will not remain there. Mentors must learn all they can about their protégé by asking appropriate questions and listening to the answers. Some questions mentors may consider are • What motivates you? • What are your expectations? • What keeps you from moving forward?

• What are your goals? • What concerns do you have? • What are your strengths? Weaknesses? • How do you learn best? • What causes you difficulty? • What do you need? Effective communication includes openness and clarifying of instructions and expectations. When listening to the answers, mentors must listen to understand. What is heard will steer the teaching. Remember to commend and recognize particular actions. Perhaps the most profound thing about being a mentor is that for the most part, you don’t know you are one until somebody tells you. Ramona Pulce serves as the human resources director of Nashville General Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. She can be reached at [email protected]. 1541-4612/ $ See front matter Copyright 2005 by Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.mnl.2005.06.002

August 2005