Whether you realized it or not, when you began your career you were someone’s protégé, they served as your mentor. Mentoring goes well beyond being a “trainer” in the sense that, for example, a seasoned cashier may be asked to train a new cashier. This is a simple training exercise and once trained the new cashier is on his or her own. The mentor/protégé relationship is a much more intense and long term relationship.
It can be somewhat of a shock to the new graduate to find that what was learned in school or college simply provided the “hooks” upon which to hang knowledge gained through experience. The engineering graduate knows how to calculate the stress in a loaded beam, but experience guides the seasoned engineer in the consideration of age, environmental factors, possible assembly flaws etc. This is sometimes referred to as “the real world” vs. the academic arena.
A true mentor can understand where the novice is in his or her education and how to bring the protégé along. Likely he was someone else’s protégé at one time and he may model his activities after the path his mentor chose.
Mentorship, of course, often extends beyond the professional aspects of life. Driver training, learning to play golf or baseball, all entail some form of training to learn the basics. To become adept at these activities requires the learning and understanding of the nuances that separate the able from the skilled participants.
While the protégé is gaining knowledge and experience, the mentor is benefiting as well. There is a sense of reward gained by watching a novice evolve into a capable individual. Even further is an aspect that is not often considered. Being someone’s mentor also means going back to some of the basics of the learned activity. Instructing and guiding someone in the selected activity requires the mentor to review what is already assumed, facts that are intuitive to the mentor must be broken down and explained to the novice. The mentor is reaffirming his own knowledge.
Novices are very creative in finding new ways to perform something incorrectly. The golf swing that feels so natural to the accomplished golfer can be performed so very poorly by the novice. Analyzing what the novice is doing wrong and correcting it brings with it a new understanding of what the proficient golfer is doing right.
Finally, the protégé becomes proficient; he/she becomes a journeyman at the task. The mentor is enervated to watch his protégé in action as a full member of the team. Furthermore, the protégé has his or her perspective and then true synergy can be applied in a team effort.
There is an old saying attributed to Isaac Newton, which is a paraphrase of a statement by Bernard of Chartres, have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. It is the mentor who elevates the protégé to greater achievement.