Each of us would have benefited from the guidance and counseling of an older, more experienced person during some stage of our lives. We're talking about someone who may have left a lasting impression on us and influenced our thoughts, or shaped our character. What would our lives be like had it not been for that friend, philosopher and guide? More importantly, do you now find yourself playing the role of one? Why is mentoring so important, and are there ways of making it more effective?

Let's start at the beginning.

The term mentor refers to a trusted counselor or guide, someone who is a wise and loyal adviser or coach. Typically, the mentor is an older person and is always more experienced than the protégé. The mentor may have different reasons for acting as one, but personal gain is usually not one of them. Mentoring could be an informal relationship, between two people who are already personally acquainted, or can take the shape of structured, formal mentoring programs, such as The Professional Organizer Mentoring Program available.

Mentoring programs have become increasingly popular, mainly because they have been so successful in achieving results. Nowadays, you can find several organizations that help set up mentoring programs based on the specific needs of the protégé. They recruit potential mentors from different walks of life and match them with the requirements of a younger person seeking guidance. Both mentor and protégé are given the chance to get acquainted through informal chats or interviews in order to determine a suitable fit.

Mentoring programs are of various types, such as:

o Academic mentoring – this is probably the most common, where a college professor mentors a student through a specific project.
o Career mentoring – the objective of such a program is to guide the mentored through career choices, and help him or her along the path of the chosen career.
o Personal development mentoring – this is more about providing counseling during times of personal crisis, or for people with less privileged lives. An example is Big Brothers / Big Sisters of America which run mentoring programs that connect children and young adults with older role models.

Besides these, mentoring programs could have been structured in a business environment such as that between a boss and subordinate, or in social or religious groups.

While not much research is available on the subject, experience points out that mentoring programs do make a difference to people's lives. Mentoring has been found to be particularly helpful in raising school attendance or improving grades. What is certain is that a mentoring program can be successful only if implemented sincerityly, on a one-on-one level. Some other prerequisites are:

Following a deliberate method – mentoring is all about teaching, instructing and communicating. The mentor has to share his or her knowledge and experience and do so in a systematic, methodical way that facilitates learning.

Sharing all types of experiences – mentoring is not just about blowing your own trumpet and telling your protégé about your various successes. Talk about your failures too, as that is where the valuable lessons lie. Personal anecdotes work much better and carry the stamp of credibility, as opposed to third party case studies. You do not want to sound like a history textbook.

Giving it time – a mentoring program is no quick fix. It's an ongoing, continuous process, which will yield results only when sufficient investment has gone into it. Do not expect to be a miracle worker.

Learning together – this is the foundation of all successful mentoring programs. Remember that mentoring is a joint effort, and it's not just the protégé who learns. You do too, each time you pass on your wisdom to the person in your charge.

As an entrepreneur, you have a wealth of knowledge and experience which you can pass on to others with similar aspirations. Imagine how much easier your life would have been if you had the benefit of a mentor during your start-up days. This is your chance to make sure that some other budding entrepreneur does not go through the same trials and tribulations.

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