Which mentor is right for you?
Deciding to find a mentor can be exciting, liberating, and scary—all at the same time. Who should you ask? What should you focus on? How will you know if it’s a good fit?
One more question to add to your list: What type of mentor should you look for?
Mentoring relationships are dynamic, personal, and fluid. They should suit your needs and change as needed over time. The idea of a personal board of advisors is often used to describe how multiple mentors can create a network that you rely on for different things at different times. Each mentor on your board of advisors brings with them a unique perspective, skill set, and history of experiences that you can leverage. The makeup of your personal board of advisors will depend entirely upon the types of mentors you seek out and connect with. While many people picture an older, more senior person as a mentor, the rise of reverse mentoring has flipped that image on its head.
So what are some other ideas for who can be a mentor? Here are seven types of mentors you could look for in your organization as you embark upon a mentoring relationship.
A traditional mentor is someone who fits the idea most closely associated with mentoring: an older, more senior individual in your organization who has more experience than you do in a certain area.
The mentor in a reverse mentoring relationship is the younger, less senior person in the organization. The key here, though, is that they are still the more experienced person in some critical area that the mentee (the older, more senior individual) wants to learn about. Don’t get hung up on age, though. The person could be the same age as you or even older; it has more to do with where you both fit in the hierarchy of your organization.
A peer mentor is a coworker who holds a similar level of responsibility as you do in your organization. They are on the same level with you hierarchically speaking, and they often encounter comparable types of work issues and situations as you do.
An aspirational mentor is someone you could look to for inspiration. These are people at any level of the organization who have qualities you admire and that you want to work on within yourself. Brené Brown is someone who inspires people through her work (and likely has millions of people who consider her a mentor—even though they have never met). They learn by watching her, listening to her, and reading her books.
A practical mentor is someone you might seek if you need a real-world take on how to approach a problem or situation. While a practical mentor can inspire you, their main goal is to give you pragmatic advice that you can apply immediately to your work or life. Dr. Travis Bradberry comes to mind as a practical mentor that many people might look to for advice. His quality ideas on emotional intelligence can help solve countless interpersonal issues within organizations and teams.
A coping mentor is someone who can help you develop ways to relieve stress or find ways to cope with difficult issues or situations. These individuals are great listeners who offer pragmatic advice that you can actually implement. They can also provide you with a safe place to vent your frustrations without fear of reprisals at work.
An identity mentor is someone you look to because you either fall into a certain group (e.g., mom, female leader) or because you want to learn more about a certain identity group (e.g., LGBTQ, veterans). Identity mentors can help you learn more about yourself as you fit within that community, providing support and advice from others who understand what you experience. Or they can help you better comprehend the realities facing a group of people that you don’t identify as but whom you want to understand and appreciate more fully.
It is quite common—and recommended—that you have more than one mentor. Finding people across these categories can provide you with support for the complete and help you tackle issues in various aspects of your life.