Why has Mentoring become a bad Word?

Jul 8, 2021

Some things lead me to question the intelligence of the human mind. The word ‘Mentor’ has a great tradition. It refers to the goddess of wisdom, Athena, who became the trusted counselor of Odysseus and the guide to his son Telemachus, in Homers’ Odyssey. The word ‘coach’ on the other hand referred to a common carrier and referred derogatorily to a tutor who led the student through an exam.

Today, we celebrate coaches and denigrate mentors. Wow!

I have this déjà vu, as I question the wisdom of ‘mindfulness’ a word coined by a semi-literate Pali scholar, as referring to the wonderful state of ‘mindlessness’ that the Buddha spoke of, and people think I have lost my mind. But then, human intelligence has limitations.

Let’s question why mentoring is questioned by some coaches and institutions. What are they afraid of?

A mentor, the Mentor Goddess Athena of Wisdom, had her equivalent in the Sanskrit word ‘Acharya’, the wise one who walked by your side (chariya means to walk in wisdom, the prefix ‘a’ signifying ‘with’). Our name Coacharya is derived from this root Sanskrit word added by necessity to the word today used to describe this noble vocation.

Acharya was and is the foundation of the gurukul system of Vedic learning, which was founded on the principles of Sravana manana nidhityasana, loosely translated sensed through hearing (since no written communication existed 5000 years ago), reflecting and experiencing in action, which then converted knowledge into wisdom in the crucible of action learning.

The Mentor had the wisdom of age and experience. The Mentor did not advise or solve. The Mentor did not tell. The Mentor guided the learners through the process of awareness, action, and anchoring through observed, curious, empathetic, generative listening to verbal and non-verbal cues, in appreciative acknowledgment with sharing what was senses intuitively, then gently inquiring and exploring the learner’s mind to evoke awareness and then action.

This is far more than a carriage can do as mechanical transportation.

Wiser institutions are linking coaching to mentoring. All should.

Mentoring has become a bad word by associating it with authority that directs people to judgmental solutions. Such a person is no mentor or leader. Strangely, the millennial word ‘reverse mentoring’ is more respected and acceptable. It refers to a younger person guiding an older one, in a world where knowledge and wisdom are no longer the prerogative of age and status, the power distance factor of Hofstede.

Let’s celebrate mentoring. Let this noble word add value to the common word coach.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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