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The Myths of Mentoring

Many people make assumptions about mentoring or just have reactions when they think of the term mentor. Over the last five years, we have responded to thousands of questions and taken part in hundreds of discussions about mentoring. The following list represents commonly held (and sometimes humorously expressed) ideas about mentoring. We debunk the myths and provide a more accurate reflection of contemporary trends in mentoring.

  • You need a toga to be a mentor
    (Gone are the days of proteges sitting at the feet of the wise one; you never know who might be a powerful learning influence)

  • Mentoring only happens on a one-to-one, long-term, face-to-face basis
    (With modern technology mentoring can take place by e-mail, telephone, or fax and may only need a few hours)

  • Taking time to mentor decreases productivity
    (Mentoring improves productivity through better communication, goal clarity, increased commitment, and succession planning)

  • A mentor needs to be 5-10 years older than the person he/she mentors
    Innovations happen so rapidly or personal experience is such a great teacher that younger people often have opportunities to mentor older workers; peers are often effective mentors)

  • Mentoring is a rare experience and only occurs for a few great people
    (Informal mentoring is probably the most frequent method of transmitting knowledge and wisdom in society; virtually everyone has experienced it)

  • Mentoring requires a greater time commitment than most workers can afford
    (Being mentored or being a mentor does not guarantee career advancement, but it does significantly increase on-the-job learning, accelerating career opportunities)

  • Effective mentoring can take place just by matching an experienced adult with a novice
    (Matching without monitoring jeopardizes the value of mentoring for all parties)

  • Young people who have poor attitudes, minimal work habits or few skills do not need mentors
    (Many successful people started this way, but virtually all of them needed an older guide that listened to and respected them)

  • The person being mentored is the only one who benefits from the relationship
    (For mentoring to be effective, all parties must perceive benefits; this is the principle of mutuality)

  • The best mentors are those who set out to be mentors
    (The majority of mentoring occurs without conscious knowledge of either party, but it does help to cultivate key mentor attitudes and behaviours)

  • Corporations do not have time for mentorship because they are too busy reorganizing, restructuring, downsizing, rightsizing and surviving
    (The changing economy and globalization place great strains on time, but a focus on learning increases stability, change management, and financial growth)

  • Less than 100,000 students benefited from mentors in Canada in 1995
    The most successful strategy ever launched for youth by the Canadian government connected more than 125,000 youth at-risk of dropping out with adult mentors)

  • Fewer than 65,000 mentors were recruited from Canadian society during the Stay-in-School Initiative
    When provided with a vision and purpose combined with skill training and support, adults were more likely to volunteer which resulted in more than 65,000 Canadians from all walks of life contributing to the growth of young people.

  • There are only 10 myths associated with mentoring
    All kinds of false perceptions exist about mentoring, mostly based on fantasizing rather than reflecting on personal experience.


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