Debunking the myth of Mentor: he was a wuss

Debunking the myth of Mentor: he was a wuss

11 November 2022
Veerle Seymus
Veerle Seymus
  • Odysseus, king of Ithaca, went to fight in the Trojan War, leaving his wife Penelope and his infant son Telemachus at home. He appointed his old friend Mentor as guardian to his son and the royal household. Mentor's job was to protect and help Telemachus learn everything there was to know about living life.

    Alas, Odysseus put his trust in the wrong man. Rather than serve as a protector, Mentor oversaw utter havoc, allowing Odysseus' household to sink into ruin. Telemachus would end up insecure, indecisive, and uncertain of his ability to claim his birthright.

    Luckily for Odysseus, the gods liked to interfere in the lives of mere mortals, and the goddess of wisdom, Athena, interceded. She appeared to young Telemachus in some guises, including the human form of Mentor, to offer him advice and encouragement. Athena raises his self-esteem, behaves as a role model, advocates and acts on his behalf, and urges him to develop autonomy. So, it wasn't Mentor who guided Telemachus; it was the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena.

    The modern version of the Homeric epic poem presents powerful images of mentors as saintly, self-sacrificing, and almost super-human in their power to transform their mentees. Homerus, however, portrays Mentor as an old fool and a public laughingstock.

    Substantial rewriting of the original myth of Athene's role as Mentor has lent meaning to our modern word 'mentor'. François Fénelon, the tutor of Louis XIVs grandson, constructed the mentor archetype in his book 'The adventures of Telemachus, son of Ulisses'. This 18th-century international bestseller recounts the travels of Telemachus and his tutor, Mentor, who is the true hero of the novel with its message of world peace, simplicity, and the brotherhood of man. Flattery in royal circles would lead to tutors being called mentors. The term 'mentor' became common in the decades following this book, and that's the REAL origin of the word mentor.

  • Behind every strong man is an even stronger woman

Struggles of a manager

Managers are

  • not or inadequately trained in this role

    and

    • lack self-confidence
    • don’t know how to go from being a colleague to being a boss
    • need to loosen up on the command & control leadership style
    • must let go of the (technical) expert status
    • cannot give or accept constructive feedback
    • feel pressure to perform as manager
    • have difficulty building relationships
    • want to be liked by everyone or want to be the ‘bad boss’
    • play the hero
  • are struggling

    and

    • stay too involved in operations
    • have trouble prioritizing
    • cannot delegate
    • fear conflict situations
    • disconnect from the team
    • deal with flawed strategic thinking
    • do not relate to higher management
    • lack clear communication skills
    • remain not self-aware
    • avoid difficult conversations
    • miss political antennas
    • ...
  • capable of more

    and

    • need mental preparation as successor
    • need to be able to lead big changes ahead
    • need to learn to be emotionally resilient and in control
    • need to learn to make big decisions fast without all the information
    • must become persuasive presenters
    • need to learn how to cultivate their own personal brand
    • need to learn how to lead by example
    • manage by trust, not by fear
    • need to overly develop empathy
    • ...
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