Should Managers be Mentors?

As organisations grow in size, and decision making becomes decentralized, employees are asked to take up multiple roles without any prior experience or training. Knowledge management systems are not robust enough to capture tacit knowledge and businesses are on the lookout for innovative strategies for knowledge transfer. This has increased the impetus on knowledge based businesses pitching on talent as a source of competitive advantage.

As professionals grow in the hierarchy, a lot of their experience remains within them and the organisations are not able to tap it. This is a challenge that no knowledge management system can overcome.

The best way to tackle this is to ensure that this knowledge which is in the form of experience, reflections and perceptions be transferred verbally to people who can use it for organisational benefit. Hence managers need to go beyond the control – command approach and take up a third role which is that of a mentor.

For a senior management professional who had tight deadlines to meet, complex tasks to undertake and people to look after, teaching a subordinate to manage their careers, correct their mistakes or adeptly handle organisational politics may seem like a waste of time. The question that would pop up is, “What is my gain here?”

In the race for professional excellence and career progression, every individual learns innumerable lessons. But nobody really takes the time out to reflect on what they have collated. Mentoring for senior professionals could be the chance to enunciate their own expertise and exposure, something which would not be a part of their normal agenda. And when they resonate, they may uncover patterns which had gone unnoticed.

Mentoring is a partnered learning process– where the protege and the mentor embark on a journey of mutual discovery. The protege develops better skills, and the experience opens doors that were never opened building new horizons for both.

The mentor gets to relive his past with a brand new perspective– almost like leafing through the pages of an album. Their own experience viewed from the point of view of a person from a different culture, background or generation may seem drastically different from how they see it. This can be an enlightening experience.

Adult learning or andragogy follows a very different approach from child learning or pedagogy. While kids learn with a long term perspective in their mind knowing very well that a lesson in addition is what will help them in the many more years to come, an adult can never be convinced to learn for a long term goal. With limited time, most adults look for a solid rationale for learning. While there may be a handful who want to learn for the sake of earning knowledge, most adults require a short term incentive from it.

A protege if he/she has to benefit from the mentoring experience has to be given utmost clarity on the purpose of learning. The “reason – why “ component should be strongly weaved into the learning partnership. This objective should maintain the right balance between organisation objectives and the proteges aspirations.


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