Lessons from the First Mentor

The word “mentor” comes from The Odyssey, written by the Greek poet Homer. As Odysseus (Ulysses, in the Latin translation) is preparing to go fight the Trojan War, he realizes he is leaving behind his one and only heir, Telemachus. Since “Telie” (as he was probably known to his buddies) is in junior high, and since wars tended to drag on for years (the Trojan War lasted ten), Odysseus recognizes that Telie needs to be coached on how to “king” while Daddy is off fighting. He hires a trusted family friend named Mentor to be Telie’s tutor. Mentor is both wise and sensitive—two important ingredients of world-class mentoring.

The history of the word “mentor” is instructive for several reasons. First, it underscores the ...

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