Updated: Jul 20
Regardless of the specific form it may take, an individual’s line of work has always amounted to a process of acquiring new skills, curating pertinent knowledge, and moving (one hopes) towards a position of professional expertise. The disciplined apprentice graduates to respectable artisanship before, if all goes well, advancing to some recognized level of mastery. This was as true ten centuries past as it was ten minutes past; when we’re functioning at our best, we seem predisposed to pursue progress for any number of legitimate reasons.
But we seldom undertake that pursuit alone, though history has produced a wealth of autodidacts, those individuals capable of proficiently guiding themselves through lessons and novel bodies of knowledge, often developing diverse capabilities along the way. For most, however, skillful instruction is requisite.
We select careers based on some combination of intuition (“I’d probably like doing that.”), observation (“It seems like I’ve always been good at that.”), and opportunity (“Hey, there’s a large factory opening down the street.”). We enter our chosen fields/industries with an ephemeral sense of where we’re headed, though the professional path (keep that word in mind) is often unclear at first.
Mentorship in the modern professional arena is the means through which to mitigate career path uncertainty. It is a reinforcement mechanism that allows for experience and information to be usefully disbursed rather than tacitly harbored; it fortifies an organization’s competency quotient by ensuring more minds within it are equipped to confront challenges, seize opportunities, and lead others to themselves do the same. This “passing of the torch” model inherently functions as a source of encouragement for aspirational employees, while formalizing the model opens the door to creating a measurable development pipeline for the company.
Substantive mentor/mentee programs are fruitful for all involved. The mentor equips a protégé with necessary guidance and lessons to improve as an employee, the mentee finds footing on an established career path, and the company minimizes the risk of its aggregate knowledge becoming overly siloed.
As many have observed, mentorship in one form or another will instinctively manifest between established and aspiring generations. What a prescribed mentoring program can deliver is measurable progress by way of a scheduled succession of accomplished goals and earned promotions. Having a toolset and a proven model at your disposal can strengthen the process in ways that will keep mentees fully committed to their own development and managers consistently focused on empowering their successors.