Mentors and protégés: Are they relics or relevant?

David Hewett

David W. Hewett, BOMA International Fellow
Executive managing director, Olive Real Estate Management Services

In today’s fast-paced and younger-by-the-day mentality, do we need the skills and efforts of a mentor, or is this just another bothersome task that Alexa can solve for us more quickly and with less effort?

Having spent most of my adult life as both a protégé and a mentor, I have one or two opinions on the subject. Note the word “protégé,” not “mentee.” Both are real words with history and meaning, though protégé is rarely used today, mostly because many people do not understand the word and feel it is negative or demeaning. “Mentor” stands tall, and everyone wants to be one or brag about one they have, but “protégé” is a funky word that sounds a bit odd and subservient and is, additionally, hard to spell.

Let’s take a quick look at the MerriamWebster Dictionary definition:

Mentee: One who is being mentored.

Protégé: One who is protected or trained or whose career is furthered by a person of experience, prominence or influence.

As you can see, the protégé is one who has a full and deep relationship with a purpose, so as we go on, I will use the words “mentor” and “protégé,” and we will see that relationship is a big part of the process.

Should you be a mentor or a protégé? The answer is yes! You can and should be both. They are life-changing and organization-changing relationships. Being mentored is just as important as being the mentor, no matter what your age or experience. Personal growth is the point for both individuals and, at various points in their lives, the roles may reverse for specific needs or situations. One may participate in either role with multiple people simultaneously. So, let’s dig into the relationships and the anticipated outcomes.

The relationship of mentor and protégé can occur within any “people” situation, whether a formal program or an informal environment. We will find mentors/protégés at work, church, sports, volunteer groups, etc. Don’t get hung up on the ifs, whens and wheres. Look for the relationships that are valuable for you and others wherever you are.

A protégé is focused, teachable and flexible.

A mentor provides a culture of appreciation, is protégé focused, not self-focused, and builds relationship.

The mentor/protégé relationship encourages other relationships beyond those two individuals. While mentoring may center on business or academic concerns, it is primarily a tool for relationship building. You need mentoring to grow personally, to give yourself a better view of who you are and to envision your future. Having someone with experience mentor you will give you insights into the future and how you can navigate it more easily. We always hear that it is good to learn from our mistakes; it is better to learn from others’ mistakes, and a great mentor can impart that knowledge.

One of the biggest issues we face today in business and industry is the loss of historical knowledge. We are losing a generation of knowledge, and, while new ideas are important to communicate, history has much to teach us. Mentoring is about knowledge, both the old and sometimes forgotten knowledge and today’s newly discovered knowledge. Successful mentoring creates an understanding of how the old and new work together, which equals wisdom. Young and old must work together to ensure the future is solidly created and well received. Every day, 10,000 baby boomers are leaving the workforce. The next generation needs some of their ancient wisdom.

Mentors and protégés are better at what they do because of the knowledge and wisdom they have given and acquired. They make better team members and employees, and they are more satisfied in their individual jobs and organizations. Mentoring creates a sense of belonging and a path to the future in a way that almost nothing else can. Protégés feel appreciated and choose to be part of organizations with a culture of appreciation. Mentoring makes good business sense.

Who should be a mentor, and who should be a protégé? You! Your employees. Your best and brightest. Your newest recruits. Your lifelong team members. Everyone. Mentor anyone you want to see succeed. Be a protégé of anyone you respect.

What are some valuable mentoring topics? The culture of the organization, skills needed, career path advice, personal growth, leadership fundamentals, communication and individual impact. What are some useful protégé questions? How am I doing in this area? What am I missing? Where can I improve? What’s next?

As a mentor, you are sharing your experience and wisdom. King Solomon said it this way, “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.” Mentors shares their experience and their wisdom to enhance their protégé’s future.

Find your mentor; be a mentor!

Find your protégé; be a protégé!

Final note: You can find a great mentor/protégé relationship anywhere. A special thanks to Sheri, my awesome wife of 40 years, for her editorial mentoring!

Featured in CREJ’s January 2020 Property Management Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.