Magazine article Public Management

Mentoring: Philosophy and Practice

Magazine article Public Management

Mentoring: Philosophy and Practice

Article excerpt

Leaders Must Keep Their Minds and Eyes on the Future

Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From this standpoint in daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of men - above all, for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and so for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my own inner life is built on the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.

As we in local government look to the twenty-first century, we realize that we will continue to be faced with innumerable challenges. These include providing municipal services with less financial support; addressing multi-faceted societal issues; and the growing diversity and increasing needs of the communities we serve. The leaders of tomorrow must be uniquely prepared to address the known and unknown challenges that lie ahead. Leaders of today, thus, must be able to work on the daily tasks of running a locality and must at the same time keep their minds and eyes on the future or on the "big picture." They must be able to pass this sense of balance on to their mentees. It is our responsibility as today's leaders, however, to share the knowledge and wisdom that we have developed through our successes and failures with the leaders of tomorrow, so that they can effectively guide us well into the next century and beyond.

Today, many products and services are available for professional and personal growth. Unfortunately, an important component is missing from these approaches: an individualized, one-to-one environment for the exchange of experience and wisdom - mentoring. The term "mentor" dates back to ancient Greece, when Odysseus first entrusted his friend, Mentor, with the education of his son Telemachus as Odysseus embarked on a lengthy voyage. By capitalizing on Mentor's teachings, Telemachus was better equipped to meet the challenges he faced throughout life. Today, though we may not immediately recognize the fact, such mentoring practices are at work in virtually every facet of our lives. However, the degree to which mentoring is practiced, formally or informally, within present-day public organizations varies dramatically.

There are two distinct types of mentoring programs within public organizations today: formal and informal. Formal programs are those structured and initiated by the organization itself. Typically, those organizations that provide for such programs have made a strong commitment to the growth of the individual and place a high value on training and professional development.

Informal relationships tend to prosper and flourish in organizations that hold the value of the individual in high regard and that make a corresponding commitment to ongoing training and professional development. Typically, as a result of the continued support for growth opportunities and open lines of communication throughout the organization, those with shared interests or complementary traits come together, and a mentor/mentee relationship begins to evolve.

The Nature of the Animal

Mentoring constitutes a unique and personal relationship between two people: one who has achieved a certain level of experience and one who is aspiring to a higher level. Most mentoring relationships evolve slowly and involve an informal or unspoken commitment of support that the mentor has offered and the mentee has accepted. The relationship often develops when two individuals' personal and professional needs meet on a common ground and the two discover an affinity for each other.

Key to a mentor's legacy is the ability to aid in developing excellent life skills and instilling in the mentee a sense of personal responsibility, respect for others, courage, preparedness, an ideal of always giving one's best effort, constantly improving skills, and remembering the ever-important follow-through. …

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