What is Mentoring?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2019
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Mentoring is a life educational model based on the principle of a more experienced mentor guiding his or her student, often called a protege or mentee. Mentoring often involves more than a traditional teacher/student methodology -- mentors may also provide spiritual, emotional or financial counseling for their proteges. A trained educator may not have the time to work one-on-one with students, but a mentoring relationship encourages this level of interaction. Many companies sponsor mentoring programs in order to groom junior employees for future leadership roles.

The concept of mentoring can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Philosophers such as Socrates routinely took on the role of mentor to young men who demonstrated great leadership potential. In return, their proteges agreed to continue the mentoring relationship with their own students. The idea of matching experience with youth continued through the Middle Ages with the advent of the guild system. Master craftsmen would accept promising students as apprentices, guiding them through all aspects of the craft.


The mentoring system may go by other names, but it's still the strong bond between mentor and protege that matters. In Japanese business culture, a senior executive called a sempai is often paired with a junior executive called a kohai or kosai. The sempai/kohai relationship is held together by a bond of trust and loyalty. Almost all aspects of the kohai's (junior's) life are carefully scrutinized by the senior sempai. While some Westerners may feel this sempai/kohai relationship crosses the line of effective mentoring, many young executives in Japan look forward to forming a solid sempai/kohai relationship.

Mentoring is not limited to business or political stages. Would-be mentors can now participate in local mentoring programs designed to encourage at-risk students. Based on a model similar to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, these mentoring programs match experienced volunteers with teens seeking career or personal guidance.

A motivated professional doesn't have to join an organized program to become a mentor, however. Some established creative artists participate in private mentoring sessions with promising younger artists, for instance. Mentoring is a labor of love for those who want to see their skills and experience continue with another generation.


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