IN ANCIENT Greece, Odysseus — the legendary king of Ithaca and hero of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey — entrusted the education of his son, Telemachus, to a trusted counsellor and friend. This trusted and wise friend, Mentor, reportedly became Telemachus’ counsellor, guide and tutor.

Mentor’s name has since become synonymous with the process of learning the ropes from a more experienced individual.

Leading human resource consultant and keynote speaker David Clutterbuck defines mentoring as “offline help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking”.

Expressed in its simplest form, the mentor is there to help the mentee to learn. Much of the learning is enabled by the mentor guiding the mentee into learning situations and then helping him to reflect on and consolidate the learning.


Why have a mentor?

There are many benefits to having a mentor. The key to the value of a mentor is his experience: Whatever issues you are facing now, your mentor will probably have faced them before.

He is therefore in a good position to give you advice. This means you are benefiting from the wisdom of someone who has probably faced the same issues as you, many times over.

Finding out how your mentor dealt with a situation, and why he acted as he did, can help you make decisions for yourself. A mentor will provide you with an independent opinion you can use as a measuring stick when you face a difficult situation. He can also help to boost your confidence and avoid mistakes.

Having a mentor will help boost your career progression in a number of ways. Mentors can advise you on decisions that will help you to progress in your career, and expose you to opportunities you may not have previously considered, or had access to.

Mentors are able to serve as a reference to building your network, and may even guide you on how to rise to higher levels within an organisation.


How do I choose a mentor?

The ideal mentor can be someone within your company, but it may be preferable to look for one outside your department or in a similar area at another company.

It is important to find someone you can learn from, and bounce ideas off. You should be able to trust your mentor. He should be a good communicator you feel comfortable talking to.

Ideally, your mentor should be successful in his career, not just on paper, but also in your view. This could be because he has values you admire, or because he has the type of job you aspire to have yourself one day.


Tomorrow: Mentoring benefits the mentor too


Article by Professor Sattar Bawany, the CEO of the Centre for Executive Education (CEE) and strategic adviser of the International Professional Managers Association (IPMA). CEE offers executive coaching and leadership development programmes that help professionals develop the skills and knowledge to embrace change and catalyse success in their industries. For more information, visit or e-mail