The Information Age being what it is, there is no dearth of sources for information and expertise. We research online and offline. We listen to guest experts and watch educational programs. We read books, newsletters and magazines. We hire consultants.
But where do we go for ongoing wisdom? To whom do we turn for experienced advice to help us achieve stronger performance?
Increasingly in business, the answer is: mentors.
“Mentoring lets employees soak up character, judgment and approach,” writes Micki Holliday, in the book Coaching, Mentoring & Managing. “It is the opportunity for them to apprise situations and cultivate their own ways.”
This solution to the need for a certain flavor of guidance and learning is surprisingly ancient, having its roots in Homer’s Greece. Mentor was the name of Odysseus’ faithful friend who served as teacher and overseer for his son, Telemachus, when Odysseus left to fight in the Trojan War.
To this day, mentors continue to serve as guides and teachers, providing a good, reliable sounding board, opportunity for a second opinion and, often, emotional support. We learn from their experience, their mistakes and their successes. And we often gain access to their (usually extensive) network of decision-makers.
Working with mentors is generally not only good for individuals but good for the company, as well.
“Now more than ever, and in most industries, human assets are of greater importance than physical and financial assets,” write the editors of the Harvard Business Essentials book Coaching and Mentoring. They make the case that neither physical nor financial assets differentiates companies nor confers a long-term competitive advantage, whereas human assets are the source of innovation and value creation. “Thus, organizations have a powerful economic incentive to develop their human assets.”