There are few experiences more rewarding than teaching what you know to someone else. The mentor-protege relationship is perhaps the ultimate teaching experience: a one-on-one transfer of accumulated knowledge and wisdom designed to benefit both parties involved.
Proteges are a common occurrence in the business world today. Experienced people in every industry often decide to “adopt” a protege-whether the arrangement is through a formal mentoring program, or an informal mutual decision to take a new employee “under your wing” and show him the ropes. The reasons to enter into a mentor-protege relationship are many, but the most common is when the protege candidate shows promise from the start.
Mentor-protege relationships can be either formal or informal. Informal mentoring relationships often develop on their own, with the more experienced person offering advice and assistance and the newcomer taking that advice to heart. Many organizations have formal mentoring programs, which can be either within the company or within the industry. For example, the Small Business Administration runs a mentoring program where retired business executives dedicate their time to developing proteges.
College interns also figure into the equation. Though proteges are not always interns, the relationships are virtually the same, while the reasoning may be different. But whether you work with a protege or a college intern, becoming a mentor can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your professional life.
A Brief History of Mentoring
The actual origins of the mentoring process are unknown. However, the word “mentor” is derived from Homer’s Odyssey. The original “Mentor” was an older man who served as an advisor to the king. Unfortunately Mentor was rather ineffectual in his advice. However, the term in this context refers to the goddess Athena, who took on the form of Mentor to advise a younger man in the art of war.
There have been many famous mentor-protege pairs throughout history. One of the earliest and most well-known was Paul of Tarsus and Timothy, a first-century Christian bishop. Minister, activist, and Morehouse college president Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays served as a mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr.; and the poet Ezra Pound guided a fledgling T.S. Eliot through his literary career.
Most recently, the protege concept has been illustrated through billionaire Donald Trump’s reality television show The Apprentice, where young men and women compete for the opportunity to claim Trump as their business mentor. Learning a trade or an industry from someone with more experience has been a consistent occurrence throughout history, and it is still a viable and successful approach.
You don’t have to be Ezra Pound or Donald Trump to offer something worthwhile to a protege. If you’ve had experience in a business or industry, you can benefit someone new to your field and have the pleasure of watching a new talent unfold.
Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.—Mother Teresa