Have you ever found yourself in a situation at work where you have to make a tough decision? We all want to tread that fine line between diplomacy and going as far as possible without ruffling any feathers. 

But that’s why tough decisions are well… tough! To make the right decision in a delicate situation requires one to balance the risk and reward without jeopardizing your career. And it can be hard to strike that balance, especially in the early days of your career when you stand to gain a little, but lose a lot. 

This is where mentors come in.

The concept of a “mentor” has its origins in ancient Greek mythology. In the epic Odyssey by Homer, Odysseus embarked on a long journey, leaving behind his infant son, Telemachus. A few years later, Telemachus, now in his teens, yearns to know more about his father’s exploits and is desperately seeking a father figure to guide him. Keen to help him in this quest, Athena (the Goddess of Wisdom) comes to Earth in the form of “Mentor”, an old family friend who is there to guide Telemachus through the perils of his teenage years.

And since then, the word has stuck. Over the last few years, this ancient Greek concept has begun to acquire a renewed significance and importance. Everybody between the ages of 18 to 30 is on the lookout for that one person (or people) who can provide them with the guidance and patience required to navigate the 21st-century workplace and to help them answer the big questions: What do I do? Should I apply for a Master’s or work some more? How do I deal with a horrible boss?

These are not easy questions, and like Telemachus, many of us are looking for guidance and indeed, just someone to talk to about the potential answers in our head. But unlike Telemachus, mentors don’t just suddenly appear as earthly forms of celestial beings, you need to identify them for yourself. 

When we think about mentors, we usually imagine somebody older, with more experience and knowledge about the world. The flow of information is usually from the mentor to the mentee, with the mentor providing guidance on whatever issues the mentee would like to bring up. This relationship could indeed be called “transactional”, as the primary aspect of it is that the mentor gives advice and the mentee takes it. They absorb the facts, listen to your side of the story, before giving you advice as to what you can do. 

In many ways, the 21st-century mentor is no different. They are there to guide you through tough personal challenges as well as motivate you when you feel low. They are there to listen to you when you want to be heard and understood. And lastly, they inspire you to become better. Not by spoon-feeding the mentee but rather, gently making them realize the best path for themselves. To not point out the correct path, but to open their eyes to newer possibilities. A good mentor wears many hats: friend, philosopher, guide as well as a cheerleader, all rolled into one!  To know more about what a good mentor looks like, check out Harappa faculty, Ashweetha Shetty talk about what good mentors can do for you.

There are a few crucial ways in which 21st-century mentors are different, however. For starters, mentors need not necessarily be much older than you. Mentors can be your peers, classmates, or colleagues. Remember, the crucial aspect is that they must inspire you! These types of mentors can also be called buddy-coaches. According to Utkarsh Amitabh, Harappa faculty and founder of Network Capital, this is the future of mentorship. And due to the lack of age difference, it can also lead to an easier exchange of knowledge and information. To know more about them, you can access Harappa’s Embracing Change and Navigating Workplaces courses.

Mentorship need not be just a one-way street either. You too can bring value to the mentor’s life, not just by providing them with help but also by chipping in with your unique perspective or opinion. Contemporary mentorship is a two-way street and requires both sides to chip in. Now, you might think you aren’t senior or experienced enough to play this role. But this isn’t just about seniority. It’s about helping someone whose success and well-being you care about. Just like your mentor would do for you. 

People play a big role in how you navigate your workplace. Having a mentor or just somebody to egg you on in low situations can make all the difference!


Enroll now for our Establishing Trust course and learn to build trust-rich work relationships  from Harappa Education. Foster strong trust-based relationships at work with our Online Courses to make your world of work better.

Shubhayan is an Associate Specialist in the Curriculum Team. A graduate of the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, Shubhayan enjoys laughing at his own jokes and playing the bass guitar.

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