Mentor is a Verb, Not a Noun


The advice usually comes early in one’s career. “Find yourself a Mentor.” There may be an individual that the person has in mind. “Nancy would be a good mentor for you to work with. She’ll teach you everything you need to know.”

Really?  Nothing against Nancy. I’m sure she’s very knowledgeable, but how could she teach you everything you need to know? Nobody could do that for another person.

The title is used as if it is a yogi, high upon a mountain top, here to bestow their vast knowledge to someone.  The fact is, we use it too much as a title than as an activity.

The problem with treating it as a noun is that it focuses more on the person doing the mentoring and not enough on the mentoring. When that happens, we have a tendency to limit ourselves to that person.

For more information, check out How to Mentor for Maximum Benefit

Do we need “Mentor Monogamy?”

If we talked about mentoring in terms of the activity, we might open ourselves to multiple mentors. Gary might be your mentor in sales and business development, while Ann is your mentor on developing your leadership skills.

Related post: 10 Ways to Mentor

That might even be too limiting. If you go ask Andrea down the hall a question on how she put together a marketing plan, isn’t she performing one-off mentoring?

Any time someone transfers knowledge to someone else, mentoring is taking place. If someone answers a question, they’re mentoring. If someone shares an article with you via email, twitter, or that archaic practice of printing it and laying it on your desk, they are mentoring. If you’re fifty-something and a twenty-something shows you how to set up a Snapchat account, they are mentoring you.

What if we removed the word “mentoring” from our vernacular? I’ve often thought we should do the same thing with the word “leader.” Instead of walking around talking about it, let’s do the Nike thing and “Just do it.” I’ve always thought that a true leader is one who never talks about what a great leader he is.  The same goes for mentoring.  Instead of burning calories assigning mentors or asking people to be your mentor, just do it.

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

Mentor and let mentor. And we’ll all live happily ever after.

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