The New Way of Mentoring: Defining the Practice of Mentorship


To understand where the practice of mentorship began, we have to look back…way back. Fire up that imagination and think back to 3,000 years ago, in Ancient Greece — where many of our modern ideas on society, democracy and philosophy were born.

Many believe that the practice of mentorship traces back to the character Mentor in Homer’s poem The Odyssey. As the story goes, the hero Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War, leaving his son Telemachus in the care of a good friend, Mentor. As the war rages on for decades, Mentor nurtures and educates Telemachus into adulthood. 

Some theorize that the uplifting qualities of Mentor’s character were developed later on, by French author Francois Fenelon. His 1699 novel Les Adventures de Telemaque assigns Mentor many of the qualities we associate with modern mentors.

Our definition of mentorship has come a long way from Ancient Greece and feudal France. We don’t need a decades-long war to rage in order to meet mentors — whether in our personal or business lives — that can provide lessons from their experience to help us grow.

The practice of mentorship has grown from a static noun (think: older businessman or woman helps a younger associate climb the ladder) into an active, two-way concept that breaks down the typical hierarchical structure and focuses on mentoring as a function of experience.

Let’s examine how we’ve arrived at this new definition of mentorship, and where the future might lie. No Trojan Horses here; just some tips and thoughts on how to get the most out of your mentoring relationships.

The Beginning of Modern Mentorship

The traditional definition of mentorship in the business world crystallized around the 1970s. At this point, the business world was a lot more static than it is today; many workers stayed in one field, with one company for their entire career. 

It was this consistency that formed the rigid definition of mentorship — a junior worker forming a long-term, one-on-one relationship with a superior who was reaching down the corporate ladder and doing the youngster a favor. Many of these relationships focused on training future executives.

There’s nothing wrong with a younger professional tapping into the expertise and experience of a more senior employee. But as we’ve seen over time, the definition of mentorship can be a lot more inclusive and nuanced than once imagined.

The New Definition of Mentorship

The biggest breakthrough in new-school mentorship is the breaking down of hierarchical barriers. Put simply, mentorship doesn’t have to occur between a seasoned vet and a new hire. It’s best to view mentorship through the lens of experience. Rather than focusing on finding a mentor with more years on their resume, try to find someone who’s gathered lessons from experiences that might be beneficial to share.

Pairing a mentor and mentee based on relative exposure creates the best type of mentor relationships. Understanding each party’s background — where they come from, how they grew up, where their career path began — can help ensure that both sides relate to each other and can achieve meaningful results.

Lastly, and possibly most importantly, is the realization that mentorship goes both ways. Top performers in every environment — whether you work in an office or on an athletic field — adopt a growth mindset and understand that learning never stops. Rip off the labels of “mentor” and “mentee” and you’ll find that each side will learn valuable lessons from each other.

What many call “reverse mentoring” is really just a built-in aspect of the mentoring process. For example, a  fast-rising millennial executive can teach an older new hire about the ins and outs of a particular company. What that older employee lacks in company knowledge can be made up for with old-school business acumen and people skills transferred to the young executive.

A Mentorship Community 

Another new wave of mentorship involves opening up relationships to include more collective experience. Why gain exposure to just one individual’s experiences when you can hear from several peers who each have unique perspectives and lessons learned? 

Consider the following story from a Mentor Spaces community member, Jasmine, who is embracing the practice of mentorship

Jasmine is a recent grad who finished her degree in a community with no connections outside of her university. As she considers her career opportunities, she had no good reference point for where to begin. As a member of NBMBAA, Jasmine received an invitation to join Mentor Spaces to have conversations with those in the know. Within a few minutes, she joined, profiled her areas of interest, joined several spaces (groups) that fit her interests. A community manager reached out and offered to introduce her to several mentors that could help answer her questions.

Jasmine hasn’t decided what she’s going to do for her career at this point but is confident that she now has access to people in the know. The mentors she’s connected with are willing to guide her throughout her journey.

Embrace the Practice of Mentorship 

Mentor Spaces is the perfect community to advance your career through the practice and power of mentorship, offering both asynchronous and synchronous opportunities for mentoring. 

Asynchronous communication, like the Q&A sessions we have within our Spaces on the Mentor Spaces app, allows individuals to engage in an ongoing educational discussion without the need for immediate response. On the flip side, synchronous communication allows for live events, which we call Sessions, where face-to-face or screen-to-screen interaction leads to an active discussion. Both versions create a community to share experiences with ease. 

Download the Mentor Spaces app to start having career conversations with people in the know to make decisions with confidence. 
Got experiences to share? Consider becoming a mentor today.