All of us in business have a collective responsibility to facilitate growth. Growth is the engine of capitalism. It promotes investment, creates jobs and fuels the overall economy for the benefit of society. We also have a responsibility for continuous improvement, to make our businesses better, to become more competitive and to learn from our mistakes.
In addition, business leaders have a responsibility to develop the leaders of tomorrow. There is value in your business experience, and it does not have to have been successful. The stories of your experience can make a difference to younger people, not so much by making their lives easier, but by advancing their learning and making them more competitive. As a business leader, you can do this by being a mentor.
In a similar manner, employees have a responsibility to improve their contribution, make their businesses more successful and to develop themselves to the best of their ability. In other words, as an employee you should be all about making yourself more valuable. These individual employee responsibilities can be greatly enhanced by having, and paying attention to, a mentor.
But what exactly is a mentor?
The word actually originates from ancient Greek. In Homer’s “The Odyssey,” Mentor was a person, an elderly friend of Odysseus. Knowing he was to travel and be gone for an extended period of time, Odysseus charged Mentor with the responsibility of advising and assisting Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, while he was away. In short, Mentor became a mentor.
In today’s definition, a mentor is an individual, usually older, always more experienced, who helps and guides another’s development. More importantly, a mentor must be caring. It is not a power position.
Mentoring in business can be quite formal and even company- sponsored. In some cases it is culturally-supported, where the development of the workforce is an integral part of the way the company does businesses. Some companies make a big deal of this in an admirable way, but most do not. These workforce development processes can also be early victims of top-down cost control.
Fortunately for mentors and mentees alike, these relationships and overall workforce development can also be informal. They can come from the relationships you may already have through work, family, school, sports, church, civic clubs, Chambers of Commerce, professional associations and alumni groups such as those from Krannert and Purdue.
What do you talk about in these mentoring relationships?
Invariably, much of business mentoring will center on financial issues, business purpose and the complexity of management as it deals with the necessity of balancing the competing interests of customers, employees and financial performance. The conversations are personal and serious, and should lead to improved understanding and an enthusiasm to continue on the part of the mentee.
Working consumes a third of our lives. You can and should target making your work productive, a personally satisfying effort, worthwhile to you, a contribution to society and even fun! You can help others get this kind of result from their business experience. That is the way to make business successful. It is certainly the way to make it survive over time. It can also become your passion.
It is certainly mine.