When you have a discussion about management, leadership, succession planning, or career planning, someone usually brings up mentoring. Usually at this point people nod their heads and automatically think that they understand what a mentor is. However, the idea of a mentor probably conjures up different images for different people. Some may picture Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid, or Obi-Wan from Star Wars. Others may picture their boss, their moms or dads, or perhaps a favorite teacher. The point is, mentoring means different things to different people, which is okay, because in fact, there are different kinds of mentors. Below is a list of the kinds of mentors you might find out in the world.The wise experienced leader: The title gives this one away. This is a person who has reached the peak of his or her career and wants to share his or her wisdom with others. Often this is done within the organization, but sometimes it can be with someone outside the company. Depending on the age of these kinds of mentors and whether they wish to continue to work, they can sometimes sell their services as a "master" mentor. Peer mentors: These mentors are friends or colleagues who pair up to help one another along, whether it is through a project or as they work through their career within an organization. Sometimes these relationships are formalized and people are assigned to a "peer" mentor but more often than not they are informal and may be on-again-off-again as work and life situations change. The life coach: This is your trained, sometimes certified (often part of the HR department or a consultancy), mentoring professional. Sometimes you see life coaches appear right about the time layoffs are announced, but more and more employees are seeking these professionals out to try to help themselves get ahead in the working world. The teacher: As I stated in the first paragraph, teachers are often natural mentors, particularly for those who are working and going to school, whether they are traditional students who have yet to fully enter the workforce or those that are returning to school seeking job advancement. The conscientious manager: This is the manager who is serious about succession planning and has imparted the information needed for one or more people to be able to succeed them. Depending on the manager, the person he or she is mentoring may not even realize they are being groomed for succession. The confidante: I also have heard this called the "accidental" mentor — the person who people gravitate toward to use as a sounding board and, in the process, end up learning from them without realizing it. The media mentor: People who write books, such as "best practice books," or perhaps people who blog such as myself often do so as a way of sharing their knowledge and experiences and find it to be a way of giving back to the community. And if we are lucky, we actually toss out an item or two occasionally that are "keepers" that prove particularly meaningful to our audience.
There are probably a dozen more ways of labeling mentors, and it is not uncommon for people to have more then one and not realize it. If you are lucky enough to have a mentor and recognize it, whether it is a formal relationship or not, make the most of it. Good mentors are worth their weight in gold and they can help you to grow tremendously both personally and professionally. Keep in mind that almost everyone has something you can learn from and that if you keep your mind wide open, the world can be your mentor.
Have you benefited from being mentored or do you consider yourself to be a mentor? Are there other types you would add to this list?