When considering a mentor, it is first important to get to the foundation of what exactly we mean by “mentoring.” Mentoring is a personal relationship in which a more experienced (usually older) mentor acts as a guide, role-model, and sponsor of a less experienced (usually younger) protégé.
Mentors provide protégés with knowledge, advice, challenge, counsel, and support in their pursuit of becoming full members of a profession as well as becoming effective leaders. This is different from “coaching” which normally refers to shorter term relationships to seek and acquire often technical skills though at times coach can well become a mentor.
I firmly believe most people particularly when embarking on a new career path can benefit markedly from having a mentor. This is particularly true from young people who (as you can see from the definition provided) are embarking on a career in a “profession.” According to sociologists the “professions” include the military, law (to include lawyers as well as law enforcement), medicine, theologians, and educators. These career paths are different from other positions in society.
First, the members of a “profession” have control over an abstract body of knowledge. They are entrusted by society to develop this body of knowledge throughout their careers when they as the professions custodians. Doctors and medical researchers are expected to continue their development as medical professionals during their career while seeking better methods to treat injury and disease.
Second, members of a profession are entrusted by society with a certain degree of autonomy over who may enter the profession as well as determining who has violated the norms of the profession and must lose their “license to practice.” Doctors, military officers, and theologians swear oaths. If they are determined to be operating outside what is acceptable they lose their license, are court-martialed, or are defrocked.
Finally, those who enter a profession are motivated to provide an essential service to society that is critical for society to operate, develop, and survive. Obviously, we all believe that the external security provided by the military is critical, medical personnel treat our ailments, theologians comfort us in our moments of need, and we need a legal system that includes law enforcement if society is to function.
Consequently, I believe that those entering a profession have a heightened need for mentors to insure they fully understand its norms, standards of practice, and are encouraged to continue their professional development.
Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.