Many leaders create mentoring relationships. A mentor is a senior employee who sponsors and supports a less-experienced employee (a protégé). The mentoring role includes coaching, counseling and sponsorship. As a coach, mentor helps to develop their protégé skills. Mentors as counselors, provide support and help bolster protégés self-confidence. Mentors as sponsors actively intervene on behalf of their protégés, lobby to get their protégés visible assignments, and politic to get them rewards such as promotions and salary increases.

Successful mentors are good teachers. They can present ideas clearly, listen well, and empathize with the problem of their protégés. They share experience with the protégé, act as role models, share contacts, and provide guidance through the political maze of the organization. They provide advice and guidance on how to survive and get ahead in the organization and act as a sounding board for ideas that a protégé may be hesitant to share with his or her direct supervisor. A mentor vouches for a protégé, answers for him or her in the highest circles within the organization, and makes appropriate introduction.

In Indian context, imparting Shiksha (education) to the Shishya (disciple) by the Guru (teacher) is a well established practice rooted in centuries old traditions. Transfer of knowledge, skills and experience to the disciple is also very well documented in the great epic. Mahabharta where in the story of Arjun, the powerful warrior, mastering the art of archery from his guru Dronacharya stands testimony to learning through the guru-shishya tradition.

Some organizations have formal mentoring program, in which mentors are officially assigned to new or high-potential employee. For instance, Mentoring System, one of the initiatives launched at NTPC is for guiding, directing and counseling the young recruit with an objective to enhance their commitment level. There are more than 350 mentors who help the new entrants in integrating and assimilating the culture and value system of the organization. They also provide the new entrant a friend, philosopher and guide showing them right way in professional and personal life.

The most effective mentoring relationships exist outside the immediate boss-subordinate interface. The boss-subordinate context has an inherent conflict of interest and tension, mostly attributable to managers directly evaluating the performance of subordinates that limits openness and meaningful communication.

A leader also wants to be a mentor because there are personal benefits to the leader as well as benefits for the organization. The mentor-protégé relationship gives the mentor unfiltered access to the attitudes and feelings of lower-ranking employee. Protégés can be an excellent source of potential problems by providing early warning signals. They provide timely information to managers about short-circuits in the formal channels. The mentor-protégé relationship is a valuable communication channel that allows mentors to have news of problems before they become common knowledge to others in upper management.

In addition, in terms of leader self-interest, mentoring can provide personal satisfaction to senior executives. It gives them the opportunity to share with others the knowledge and experience that they’ve developed over many years.

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