What a Mentee is Looking for from a Mentor

Brian Oram, Licensed Professional Geologist
Featured Water Professional

This is the second article focused on the many benefits of mentoring. In the first blog post on mentoring, I shared my experience and the four really important mentors in my life and provided, in brief, what I learned or gained from each one. After writing the first blog post, I realized that I was telling only half of the story. In this article we explore the reasons an individual may seek out a mentor and what the mentor provides. 

Today, coaching and mentoring have become rather large businesses, but because of this, some may look at coaching and mentoring as “you’re not just a coach, you’re an entrepreneur building a business.”  I agree we all need to be reimbursed, acknowledged for our time and effort and we need to pay our own bills, but coaching and mentoring is more than just a business. 

The origins of mentoring, like most things, appeared to start with the Ancient Greeks. The Trojan War is a historical conflict between the people of Troy and the Greeks in the 12th or 13th century BCE. Typical for humans, the war, in many respects, was about “love and hate.”   

Based on some historical readings and guided by the Odyssey, it is said that the son of the Trojan king made off with the wife (Helen) of Agamemnon’s brother (Menelaus). Agamemnon called upon the elites of Sparta to go to war against Troy. In the Iliad, Odysseus, or Ulysses, was a Greek King of Ithaca who fought in the Trojan War on the side of Agamemnon.  The Odyssey is the story of Odysseus’s long travel home after the Trojan War.  But before Odysseus joined the Trojan War, he placed the care of his son (Telemachus) in the hands of his mentor (whose name was Mentor). Mentor guides Telemachus to become a fierce warrior and to become a king. So mentoring was not originally seen as a business model but as an obligation or duty, not just to learn a trade or skill, but how to live.   

After my years in the Boy Scouts and the martial arts, I can identify with this take on the concept of mentoring. I do not mean mentoring should be about teaching or guiding others to become warriors and kings, but the underlying role of guiding others to live in a community and finding their place in that community. 

Because of the nature of modern life, it is unlikely the mentee would have only one mentor but many mentors to assist with learning how to navigate the various elements or components of the modern world and life. Traditionally, it is clear that mentoring has been a part of our culture from its roots within the family at its core. The sons were learning from their fathers and uncles, and the daughters would learn from their mothers and aunts, and the older sons and daughters would guide their younger siblings. 

In the early days, wealthy families could rely on individuals like the mythical Mentor to guide the children of the elite. 

But as the culture changed, there were more mentoring opportunities for the young to become squires or apprentices. In both cases, it was a way for a young man from a poor family to get their son a better life – a hand up and not a hand out. 

As our culture expanded, we developed the public education system, a variety of apprentice programs in the trades and business, and higher education created its own approach to mentoring. 

With this understanding, what is the mentee looking for from the mentor?

1. In many ways, our current system has made the family very dysfunctional, so many mentees may need a role model who fits the traditional role of the mother or father. They need someone to create the boundaries for life and to help establish an ethic and a place where they feel safe. 

2. Because of a combination of economic conditions and historical problems with the public education system, mentees may need assistance in how to learn or expand their understanding. I do not mean taking classes or workshops, I mean being able to learn from the knowledge and information they are exposed to in their own way. We are all different and we learn things in different ways and the process of learning is clearly not the same for all. 

3. Some mentees are looking for a peer or cultural mentor; this would be a person of similar age, religion, and/or culture that can help them to navigate the hurdles and sharp turns of modern life within their cultural or life experience and how to deal and work within other cultures. 

4. Some mentees are looking for that classical mentor, a person who can guide them through the various stages of life and career. Typically, this may be a senior executive, licensed professional, professor, tradesperson, retired individual, or teacher. It may not be an individual but a group or association such as the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Professionals or Boy or Girl Scouts. 

In many cases, the mentor may also learn and gain knowledge from the mentee. While researching this article, I believe this is called reverse mentoring. 

5. Some mentees are not looking for just one mentor but many mentors. They seek out individuals, experts, skilled tradespersons, or professionals they believe have “figured it out.”  

6. After completing the first draft of this article, I realized that because of today’s ideological climate, two critical traits for a mentor are to provide facts and allow for debate. This is a mentor who does not let the “12 Monkeys” control the facts or the information they communicate. They provide the whole truth and nothing but the truth. At one time, this was guaranteed to be provided in the public school system, higher education, library, peer-reviewed journals  and even journalism, but today I am not so sure. In many cases, these mentors do not tell you what to believe but perhaps guide you on what you might want to read and then discuss and debate. 

No matter what the role, it is clear that mentoring should never be just a business model or business, but a way to grow and expand the culture and a way to make the community stronger. 

Related Educational Course

Smart Management: Key Skills for Managing & Coaching Your Team
Smart Management: Coaching for Better Performance

Co-worker Coaching

Diversity Competent Mentoring Pt. 1: Developmental Networks

Recommended Reading

The Laws of Human Nature
12 Rules For Life

The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

Do you have a Mentor or Mentee experience you'd like to share? Post your comments below.