8 Types of mentors and their role in the workplace

Different mentoring programs can serve different objectives. Maybe the goal is to foster more collaboration between departments; maybe it's to connect executives with junior employees. Here are 5 different types of mentoring.

Matthew Reeves

CEO of Together

Published on 

February 15, 2021

Updated on 

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Mentoring works. That’s why 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies have workplace mentoring programs. But mentoring programs need good mentors. Did you know there are at least eight different mentoring styles? No matter what style of mentoring fits your personality, being an effective mentor is easy and worthwhile. 

Why are mentors so important?

Mentorships are beneficial for participants and the organization. Being involved in a mentorship presents an opportunity to grow, learn new things, practice skills, and build your professional network.

When asked how mentorship has helped her throughout her career, Becca Peterson, a marketing professional out of Iowa shares:

“Seeking out a mentor and establishing that ongoing relationship has been monumental in scaling my confidence. Not only has it contributed to accelerated skill growth, it has also given me an opportunity to demonstrate how quickly I can apply new concepts with someone in the trenches. My mentor can both vouch for me in the future to others and has expressed wanting to work directly with me in her business. It's a win-win-win.”

In one study. Ninety-seven percent of employees believe that mentors are important, and 55 percent believe having a mentor can help you succeed. Another study found that employees with mentors are more likely to be promoted than those without a mentor.  Moreover, 67 percent of organizations say employees are more productive when they have a mentor.

Silvi Specter, Director of marketing at Healthee also shares her experience with her mentor:

“I don't know what I would do without my mentor. She gives me objective, clear guidance on all of our marketing activity, and is a crucial resource for me to stay confident as a leader and reach my goals. Mentorship is important to my career because it enables me to learn and grow and become an expert in my domain. My mentor gives me resources I need to succeed, without putting pressure on me or being judgmental towards my questions like a manager might. I'm so lucky that my boss gives me the budget to have someone in my corner and support me through every step of the way.”

Studies and anecdotal examples show how mentorship quite literally can change lives and careers. But for a mentoring relationship to be successful, mentors need to know their mentoring style. Let’s look at the 8 different types of mentors. Which one are you?

A quick note — if you're planning a mentorship program, you need our e-book on how to run a best practice mentoring program. We include insights from some of the most successful mentor program managers.

The 8 types of mentors and how to know which one you are

There are eight mentoring styles. Knowing which one you are can help you get more out of your mentoring experiences. 

1. The advisor

Mentors who are advisors often direct their mentees on the right course of action. They use their experience and expertise to offer advice. An advisor is ideal for mentees looking to follow the same career path. 

You are an advisor if you answer ‘yes’ to these questions:

  • Do you feel that your experience entitles you to indicate how problems need to be solved? 
  • Do you believe that reasonable solutions can be difficult to find, so you insist mentees follow your advice?
  • Do you define mentoring as offering solutions to problems?

2. The protector

A protector is a mentor who creates a safe space for the mentee. They are often supportive but can be overprotective. They are ideal for mentees who are in a state of transition, which can be stressful. 

You are a protector if you answer ‘yes’ to these questions:

  • Do you feel that your mentee needs you to step in and problem solve for them because they are overwhelmed?
  • Do you offer solutions for your mentee's problems because you feel they lack an understanding of the big picture?
  • Do you feel obligated to provide a safe space for your mentee to take risks?

3. The coach

Mentors who feel more like a coach are good listeners. They’ll be able to identify possible challenges that mentees will face. When they notice good attributes in mentees, a coach will point them out and encourage them. 

You are a coach if you answer ‘yes’ to these questions:

  • Do you like to let your mentee do most of the talking while you pinpoint ways to solve their problems?
  • Do you find yourself pointing out weak and strong traits in your mentee?
  • Are you aiming to help your mentee solve their problems?

4. The connection broker

A connector provides growth opportunities for mentees. Once they find out what areas their mentor wants to develop, they’ll connect them with experts in those areas. 

You are a broker if you answer ‘yes’ to these questions:

  • If you recognize a shortcoming in your mentee, do you try and connect them with experts in that area?
  • Do you look for learning opportunities that will benefit your mentee?
  • Do you have an extensive network that you can call on to help your mentee develop?

5. The challenger

Challengers are focused on helping their mentees develop strong problem-solving skills, and they often use tough love to do it. These types of mentors should be matched with mentees looking for someone who is a straight shooter. 

You are a challenger if you answer ‘yes’ to these questions:

  • Do you enjoy playing the devil’s advocate to challenge your mentee?
  • Do you encourage your mentee to aim high?
  • Do you like to push your mentee further to help them develop independence?

6. The clarifier

A clarifier is more like a companion for a mentee. They will use their knowledge to help mentees better understand the organization. A clarifier is best matched with independent mentees who don’t need much direction. 

You are a clarifier if you answer ‘yes’ to these questions:

  • Do you help your mentee learn organizational values and politics?
  • Do you allow your mentee to solve their problems?
  • Are you slow to offer your opinion on how a mentee should handle a challenge?

7. The sponsor

A sponsor is a mentor who advocates for their mentee through their position in the company and their vast network. Mentees who are looking for some help advancing at the organization would do well with a sponsor-style mentor. 

You are a sponsor if you answer ‘yes’ to these questions:

  • Do you find yourself recommending your mentee for promotion?
  • Do you use your network connections to help your mentee get ahead?
  • Do you suggest possible career opportunities to your mentee?

8. The affirmer

Affirmers are great listeners for mentees. They are happy to talk through tough situations and feelings. Mentees looking for someone to offer support will do well with an affirmer. 

You are an affirmer if you answer ‘yes’ to these questions:

  • If you see your mentee is worried about something, you spend a lot of time talking about it.
  • Do you find yourself having a deep understanding and empathy for your mentee’s situation?
  • Are you ready to offer support and a listening ear whenever your mentee stops by?

Techniques of effective mentoring: 5 tips

No matter what type of mentor you are, some best practices help you be effective, such as: 

  1. Tell stories to highlight lessons learned throughout your career. Share your experience and what you’ve learned to help your mentee gain wisdom. Tell the specific stories of what you learned and how you learned it. 
  2. Seek understanding before providing advice. Aim to fully understand where your mentee is coming from before offering advice. This helps to ensure you’re addressing the real problem rather than its symptom. 
  3. Give your full attention. Building a connection with your mentee is vital to a successful experience. When you listen to them and make them feel heard, it boosts their confidence. It also helps you understand what suggestions to make to help them grow. 
  4. Highlight areas of growth you see in them. As your mentee achieves their goals, celebrate them. Remind them of how far they’ve come and what areas of development you’ve seen. This also enhances the experience and gives them the confidence to tackle other challenges. 
  5. Empathize, empathize, empathize. It strengthens the relationship when you empathize with your mentee's challenges. Practicing empathy can also make you a better leader. 

How are mentors and mentees paired?

Starting with the types of mentoring and how they work for each party involved, companies adopting mentoring programs need to determine first what is best for their end goal and the people invested. Resources and time play a big part here, and some methods are simply more suited to different causes. 

One to One Mentoring

The most notable and traditional method of mentoring is on a one-to-one basis. This is where one mentor and mentee enter a mentoring relationship with the aim of guidance and support that is typically in the area of the mentor’s expertise. The mentor can directly share knowledge and offer developmental advice that helps the mentee achieve their goal of progression, for example. 

Group Mentoring

This is also quite a common practice and helps when coaching and mentoring are needed to impact more mentees in a shorter time frame. Group mentoring is beneficial if there is a shortage of mentors or if something needs to be delivered quickly and efficiently. Group mentoring also offers the benefit of teamwork, support, and inclusion, which can be especially practical for inductions and onboarding. 

Virtual Mentoring

Becoming more and more popular and viable in current times, virtual mentoring runs to the same principles and one-to-one mentoring only without location restrictions on either party. Mentoring can still work just as effectively even when offered virtually. With companies offering this as a mentoring method , it competes strongly with the ongoing pandemic and the need for remote working. 

Existing mentorships can transition to virtual mentoring, and in new mentoring relationships, both parties are able to navigate this unfamiliar territory together.

Team Mentoring

This method is quite similar to group mentoring, only involving more mentors in a group. This type of mentoring caters to mentees with different needs and attributes and encourages diversity. This method of mentoring is common in employee resource groups or sports. Team mentoring allows different viewpoints to be heard and a range of perspectives to take guidance from. 

Reverse Mentoring

In the same way that one-to-one mentoring works, reverse mentoring has the same kind of structure, only that a more junior person mentors a more senior person.  Both parties can learn from each other and have input, but the reverse mentoring construct makes it a formal process, so it doesn’t just end with the junior listening to the senior. This type of mentoring is especially useful today where companies need updating or fresh ideas to maintain their success. 

Formal and Informal Mentoring

The distinction between a formal and informal mentorship is important to note here, as having a mentor doesn’t always mean the process has to have a structure or be formally arranged. In an informal sense, this type of relationship tends to evolve naturally, as a friendship would, and advice and guidance are sought casually, especially to begin with. Informal mentors tend to be friends, family members and colleagues, but these relationships can evolve between company leaders and even “rival” executives to concern greater guidance in business decisions. 

Famously, when Steve Jobs was CEO of Apple, he mentored Mark Zuckerberg, who was developing Facebook at the time. Zuckerberg thanked Jobs after his death in 2011 for being a great mentor and friend. 

When looking at formal mentoring, there are more methodical approaches and structured techniques that allow for goals to be measured and attained with a clear, concise path. Formal mentoring is typically used within companies that recognize that the way to safeguard the business’s future is by sharing and passing down knowledge and skills. It is essential to see the continuation of the same values that define the company while invigorating the business with fresh ideas and perspectives. The way to do this is by supporting the development of employees through formal programs such as mentoring. 

Different kind of corporate mentoring programs

The different types of mentoring pave a clear path for those involved in that they should understand exactly why they are participating and what they are hoping to gain from the program. As a company, it is important to set correct expectations to mentors and cohorts, so they understand the type of mentoring that has been selected specifically for their cause. 

For example, entering someone into a group mentoring program who was hoping to shadow a specific mentor in line with their career path would not have the desired effect. It may actually deter the mentee and lose trust in their organization. A one-to-one mentorship would be more appropriate and beneficial.

Taking a look at the uses for mentoring, it becomes clear which type of mentoring would work in each scenario. 

1. Leadership development

Employees within companies looking to further their career can benefit significantly from having a mentor. Research has shown that people with mentors are five times more likely to receive a promotion than those without a mentor, and the success of such programs means that the demand for mentors in the workplace is higher than ever before. 

Being a leader is more than just being promoted and having an understanding of finances and business. Soft skills, networking and decision-making, are all important factors of leadership, and a mentor with experience in this field is beneficial, but almost necessary to see how this ties in with the management aspect of the role. 

Learning from seeing and doing is what enables everybody to learn in a practical environment. A mentor who can share knowledge in great people management, developing others and taking accountability for their work can impact somebody who is looking to step into a leadership role. 

Observing a mentor in a leadership role also gives insight into having a superior position and being seen and treated differently as a manager. This is important as the way people interact can change almost immediately with a promotion, and this insight offers helpful preparation for it. 

2. Succession planning

With a similar concept as leadership development, mentoring is important for company leaders and executives who are preparing for roles to open up within the business and usually target specific individuals for potential succession. 

Succession planning tends to involve high up discussions over existing talent and how mentoring could help them learn and adapt to future roles when they arise. As people tend to move in and out of businesses due to changes in career, family planning, retirement and higher promotions, all companies should have a strategy in motion for continuous succession planning and mentoring employees with talent and desire to progress, so roles are fillable with ease. 

When companies adopt mentoring programs for this use, it lets employees know that they are valued and that their development is being taken seriously. Although preparing for higher roles in this kind of plan doesn’t necessarily mean that a position will become available straight away, most employees see it as a positive move. They tend to enjoy the learning aspect and feel that their company is invested in their future. 

3. Onboarding

Another widespread use for mentoring within an organization is for onboarding or induction purposes. When people think of a mentoring program, it can be an automatic assumption to believe that businesses will only invest in this type of learning for more senior or longer-serving employees. But providing a structured onboarding program can be a successful style of mentoring and gives employees a secure welcome into the business with a clear vision of their future there. 

HR experts say that if a company has an efficient onboarding process, 91 percent of employees are more likely to stay with them for a year, and 69 percent are more likely to remain with the company for over three years. With employee retention and satisfaction in mind, onboarding as a form of mentoring is a great first step for employers to present themselves as a company taking its people and their futures seriously. 

Onboarding gives new employees a welcome into the organization they need to transition from training and coaching into their actual job role with ease. It can be an anxious or awkward time for a lot of people. This approach helps to alleviate that. It is also an excellent opportunity to invite experienced employees into the world of mentoring, allowing shadowing of their job roles and sharing of their knowledge to support new workers. 

4. Transition mentoring

This is where group or team mentoring could work effectively as the aim is to deliver a message in a selected time frame. Transition mentoring is designed to help employees adapt to new processes and procedures with ease. 

A good example of this is when in early 2020, many businesses were forced to close their doors and order employees to work from home due to the ongoing pandemic. The unforeseen changes were a shock to many and required a period of transition for everyone. Transition mentoring was implemented widely to assist employees with the sudden change, to provide support and a forum to talk about concerns, as well as regular check-ins to ensure the continuation of workflow. It also helped employees get comfortable with their new settings. 

Transition mentoring is also a great way to encourage collaboration between team members and make the buy into whatever message is delivered more widespread. Teamwork in mentoring works well in these situations as it eliminates views of potential favouritism and brings everyone forward to a similar level at the same time. 

5. Upskilling

The cost of hiring recruits to fill roles within a business can cost an organization as high as six times as much as it can to hire from within, according to a study by Josh Bersin. With this in mind, a lot of companies encourage programs to retain talent. 

Unlike succession planning, upskilling involves retaining existing employees in roles that already exist. These roles may be highly sought after by graduates looking to use their knowledge on modern technologies and practices to their advantage to gain favour for these roles. Using mentoring in upskilling helps to level the playing field and ensure that current employees have an equal chance to progress in their role. 

Again, group mentoring works well in upskilling, especially when it involves coaching in the same areas as it is more efficient for delivering training to multiple people. But reverse mentoring can be highly successful in the sharing of knowledge between senior and junior employees. 

6. Supporting Diversity and Inclusion

This is always a hot topic for mentoring. By companies ensuring their programs account for the inclusivity of people from all walks of life, it promotes fairness in opportunities within the organization. 

The power of mentorship for employees coming from under-represented backgrounds is especially necessary to ensure that all career prospects are available to all. Peer-to-peer mentoring promotes inclusivity by giving people of a minority background the experience and focus on putting them in a position where promotion is both possible and likely. Mentoring doesn’t just have to be for those who are expecting a promotion. It can be used to gain a new perspective and understanding of hurdles under-represented people face daily.

There are also programs for women in leadership that promote mentoring women within the workplace in a similar nature, for promotional reasons, but also to gain that understanding of the difficulties they may have faced in their career. For these types of programs to work, they must be elite and must be structured in such a way that allows growth and learning on both sides, not just the mentees.

Continued engagement is vital for such programs to work well and to maintain a trusting employer/employee relationship and positive company reputation. Mentoring for diversity and inclusivity tackles the imbalance that has unfortunately existed for many years and provides support for all recognized talent from any gender or cultural background.

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