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Are Leaders Mentors?

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Very often the followers call their leader as their Mentor. What does mentoring really mean? In general terms one can say – it refers to wise counseling, guiding and trusted fellowship. The word has its origin from Greek where the root of the word refers to – remember, think, counsel.

It is quite exciting to read a story related to this term:

“In Greek Mythology, Mentor was the son of Alcumus and, in his old age, a friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War he placed Mentor in charge of his son, Telemachus, and of his palace. When Athena Visited Telemachus she took the disguise of Mentor to hide herself form the suitors of Telemachus’ mother Penelope. (See Odyssey Book II, lines 255 and 268.) When Odysseus returns to Ithaca, Athena (in the form of first recorded modern usage of the term can be traced to a book entitled “ LesAventures de Telemaque”, by the French writer Francois Fenelon. In the book the lead character is that of Mentor. This book was published in 1699 and was very popular during the 18th Century and the modern application of the term can be traced to this publication. (as reported in wikipedia)”

A good leader is often seen as a mentor by his followers. In spiritual domain, we have many evidences of the great saints mentoring their disciples. In Political parlance, mentoring an associate to develop into a leader is a commonly seen phenomenon.

Many of the world’s most successful people have benefited from having a mentor including:

  • Business people – Freddie Laker mentored Richard Branson

  • Politicians – Aristotle Mentored Alexander the Great

  • Actors – Mel Gibson mentored Heath Ledger

  • Athletes – Eddy Merckx (Five time Tour de France Winner) Mentored Lance Armstrong (Seven Time Tour de France Winner.

A leader who mentors should be a role model and has to play his role in an acceptable manner.

In an academic environment, a teacher has to be a mentor. Identifying the talents of the learners, guiding them, facilitating them to grow, infusing a sense of confidence in them to perform, motivating them to look for greater goals, empowering them when they falter or de-motivated are some important dimensions of mentoring. At the higher level, a head of an institution mentors a few of the competent staff to grow and develop as a leader.

Leadership mentoring is different from other types of mentoring. A leader who mentors should be a role model and has to play his role in an acceptable manner. If the mentor proves himself or herself to be wrong to the follower, the follower not only loses faith but his belief system is totally shaken.

Can we identify some useful tips that would help us to become good mentors? If you have a few, please share with all of us. It will be a great learning experience!


About the Author

G. Balasubramanian is the Chairperson of Board of Adivsors to International Council for School Leadership (ICSL)


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