Czech Professionals and The Mentorless Generation (By Pepper de Callier)

Part one of a three-part series

The idea for this column came from a discussion I had over dinner in Prague almost two years ago.  My wife and I were new to Prague and anxious to learn about the city, the people and culture of the Czech Republic.  We were having dinner with former student dissident leader and successful Czech entrepreneur, Jan Bubeník and his wife, Pavlina Wolfová, a popular talk show host here in Prague. (In March of 2006 I joined Jan’s firm and served as Chairman until 2010.)  During dinner Jan spoke of his generation, the thirty-somethings, as being a “mentorless generation” not only in the Czech Republic but throughout the former Soviet-ruled countries of Central and Eastern Europe. 

This generation, as he described it, is made up of young professionals who, having grown up in a command economy, are building businesses and careers in a rapidly growing market economy.  They are the first in their families to “spread their wings” and, unlike their counterparts in the West, they have no family or friends that they can call on as mentors who have built careers and businesses in this market economy.   Yes, there has been the wave of consultants and expatriate executives who flooded into Central and Eastern Europe, many of which have added significant value as mentors, by the way, but only to a select few.  In addition, the preponderance of these people who were old enough to have built businesses and careers weren’t Central or Eastern Europeans.  The younger ones who were Central and Eastern European, many of whom were educated in premier Western business schools, hadn’t had the length of experience in various cycles of business and of life that a mentor needs in order to add the highest value -- hence, no vast pool of mentors who were culturally relevant who could define and translate the Central and Eastern European experience vis-à-vis the market economy.

All of that is about to change, though.  Within the next five years this mentorless generation will become the first mentoring generation of the market economy professionals in Central and Eastern Europe. And, as this generation forms its relationship with the one that follows, which will be the first generation of Central and Eastern European professionals to have culturally relevant mentors, I would like to offer some food for thought -- some observations to consider as these relationships are formed and a truly Czech version of career mentoring is born.     

Mentoring is an ancient and honored tradition in civilized society.  In the epic poem The Odyssey, Homer tells of the relationship between Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, and Mentor, a trusted advisor of Odysseus who was asked to serve as Telemachus’s tutor and guide until Odysseus returned to Athens from fighting in the Trojan War.  Mentor dedicated the next twenty years to the then infant Telemachus and served as his guide until he reached adulthood -- thus “mentoring” was born. 

As in ancient Greece, the role of a mentor is relatively unchanged today -- it is one of teacher, guide, and trusted counselor.  Or, in the words of Jan Bubeník, “A mentor is someone who can accelerate the learning-curve and ensure that you are not the ‘pioneer’ of all of life’s dead-ends.”

In the last fifteen years there has been an explosion of research on the topic, and more and more MBA programs are addressing the subject.  All of this attention has brought about an evolution creating several different forms of formal and informal mentoring relationships.  There is the traditional intergenerational relationship between the seasoned veteran and the younger initiate. There is peer mentoring, which involves two people of the same level in an organization, but one has a little more exposure to the corporate culture and the position.  There is even group mentoring and, in a twist that was championed by Jack Welch at GE, reverse mentoring.  Reverse mentoring is when a younger person, who has very current technology skills, let’s say, is paired with an older person who lacks the technology skills but can contribute valuable knowledge and guidance in other areas.  As the pace of change in business accelerates, the concept of reverse mentoring will continue to grow in importance.

While there is broad consensus that quality mentoring is indeed a valuable experience, questions arise such as: “How does one find a mentor?”  “How do you qualify someone as a mentor?  “How do you approach someone to initiate a mentoring relationship?”  “What are realistic expectations of a mentoring relationship?”  “What are the dangers and potential abuses of a mentoring relationship?”  “What does mentoring look like in its highest and best form?”

These are some of the questions I asked in a series of interviews with recognized experts in the field of career development and mentoring that will be answered in Part Two of this series.

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

Follow Pepper on YouTube: A new inspirational video message is posted every Monday - Common Sense Wisdom: Thoughts to Live By. 

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