Mentoring Styles: 7 Types & When to Use Them

Explore various mentoring styles, understand how each caters to specific needs, and uncover insights on their unique uses for a more enriched mentoring journey.

Nathan Goldstein

Co-founder of Together

Published on 

February 7, 2024

Updated on 

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One of the best ways to upskill your employees and prepare them for the future is to pair them up with senior employees in a structured mentoring program.

But, your mentoring program has to accommodate different types of learners and mentors.

This article explores seven distinct mentoring styles, each suited to different needs and settings. From the focused drive of coaching to the empowering push of sponsorship, we delve into what makes each style unique. Let’s begin.

What are mentoring styles?

Mentoring styles are simply the different approaches mentors can take to guide and support their mentees.

Does that mean there’s a single best style a company can adopt for success? Sadly, no! The most effective approach will depend on various factors, including:

  • A mentee's needs
  • The mentor's expertise
  • Organizational needs

Mentorship styles come in various types, such as  collaborative, career-focused, psychosocial, formal, informal, and reverse. But that’s not an exhaustive list. There’s also different types of mentors with their distinct styles.

eBook Best practices from real world mentoring programs

7 Types of mentoring styles

In this section, we’ll highlight seven types of mentoring that account for diverse mentoring needs, modern workplace settings, encompass various structures, and cater to different goals. For each type, you’ll also find benefits, uses, and the best way to use a specific style. 

1. Coaching

Coaching is one of the many mentoring styles that involves a mentor guiding a mentee through challenges, providing feedback, and helping set and achieve specific goals for skill development. 

  • Benefits – Enhances specific skills, improves performance, and encourages goal achievement.
  • Disadvantages – May require significant time and effort from both mentor and mentee.
  • Best For/When Skill development, goal-oriented tasks, and overcoming specific challenges.

For example, if someone is struggling with time management and prioritization. A coaching mentor could work to identify specific challenges and set achievable goals for effective time management.

🤝 What is the difference between a coach and mentor?

2. Sponsorship

Sponsorship style of mentorship involves a senior mentor actively advocating for and promoting the career advancement of the mentee.

  • Benefits – Opens doors to opportunities, accelerates career growth, and provides access to influential networks.
  • Disadvantages – Relies on the sponsor's influence and commitment.
  • Best For/When – Career advancement, leadership development, and navigating organizational politics.

For example, a senior executive can sponsor a junior by actively recommending them for leadership training programs, connecting them with influential colleagues, and advocating for their participation in high-profile projects.

3. Role modeling

Role modeling involves a mentor setting an example by demonstrating desired behaviors and skills for the mentee to emulate.

  • Benefits – Provides a tangible example for skill development, decision-making, and leadership.
  • Disadvantages – Depends on the mentee's ability to observe and interpret the mentoring.
  • Best For/When – Leadership development, cultural integration, and interpersonal skills. 

For example, a new team leader admires the leadership style of a senior manager. They observe and emulate the senior's communication techniques, decision-making process, and team-building strategies to enhance their own leadership skills.

🤝 Handbook: How To Be a Great Mentee

4. Laissez-Faire

One of the rare mentoring styles where the mentee takes the lead in their development with occasional guidance from the mentor.

  • Benefits – Encourages independence and self-directed learning for the mentee.
  • Disadvantages – Depends on the self-motivation of the mentee.
  • Best For/When – Self-directed learners, experienced professionals, and those with specific development goals. 

For example, a seasoned professional can guide their mentee by providing resources and occasional check-ins, but the mentee is mostly in control of their own development.

5. Facilitative

Facilitative mentoring involves guiding the mentee through facilitated discussions, helping them explore and discover solutions.

  • Benefits – Encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-discovery.
  • Disadvantages – Requires effective facilitation skills from the mentor.
  • Best For/When – Exploring solutions, team collaboration, and critical thinking development.

For example, a project manager facing a challenging team dynamic can ask their mentor to guide them through open-ended questions and help them explore different solutions to the problem.

🤝 Handbook: How To Be a Great Mentor

6. Technical

Technical mentoring involves a mentor providing hands-on guidance, sharing industry best practices, and recommending relevant training programs.

  • Benefits – Accelerates technical skill development and expertise.
  • Disadvantages – May not address broader leadership development or soft skills.
  • Best For/When – Specialized technical roles, industry-specific knowledge, and skill mastery.

For example, an IT professional who wants to specialize in cybersecurity can choose a mentor who’s an experienced cybersecurity expert to accelerate their development.

7. Holistic mentoring

Holistic mentoring takes a comprehensive approach, addressing both professional and personal aspects of the mentee's life.

  • Benefits – Supports overall well-being, work-life balance, and personal development.
  • Disadvantages – Requires a mentor skilled in both professional and personal guidance.
  • Best For/When – Individuals dealing with both professional and personal challenges, seeking work-life balance, and personal development. 

For example, a mid-level manager can get guidance from their mentor for their professional development goals and personal well-being. In this case the mentor addresses leadership and technical skills as well as stress management and work-life balance.

As you can see, a mentee’s situation and organizational needs both decide which type of mentoring will be the best in a case. We recommend companies provide a mix of mentoring styles for a well-rounded mentoring program.

🤝 8 Types of mentors and their role in the workplace

Benefits of different mentoring styles 

It’s also equally clear a one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring will rarely thrive. Instead, organizations that embrace a spectrum of mentoring styles reap significant benefits. 

Here are some reasons why:

  1. Diverse needs – Different employees have different needs and learning preferences. Offering a variety ensures everyone, regardless of background or personality, can find effective support.
  2. Inclusive culture – Recognizing and embracing different mentoring styles allows organizations to cultivate a more inclusive culture.
  3. Enhanced personalization – Mentees can access mentors with specific expertise, mentoring techniques, or even similar life experiences, leading to more impactful and relevant guidance. 
  4. Engagement and retention boost – Employees who feel supported and encouraged through personalized mentorship are more engaged and invested. It translates to reduced turnover.
  5. Innovation and creativity – Different styles will bring various viewpoints and approaches to the table. For instance, coaching encourages out-of-the-box thinking while facilitative style results in collaborative problem-solving. The outcome is innovation, continuous learning, and growth.

For example, Cisco has a reverse mentoring program where younger employees mentor senior leaders on technology and social media trends. As a result of such mentor-mentee relationships, the leadership stays up to date.

Crystal Black, Sr. L&D Specialist at AAA, launched a Reverse Mentorship Program at AAA and found success.

🤝 Mentor Matching: How to Make Career-Changing Pairings

The importance of identifying organizational pain points in mentoring 

Sometimes, an organization can have trouble finding the right fit even after they’ve tried out different mentoring techniques. In such cases, it’s not the technique they should be looking at, but one of these is the issue:

  1. Inconsistencies in mentorship
  2. Mismatched mentors and mentees

Of these, inconsistent mentoring experiences can have a rippling negative effect on employee engagement and professional development.

1. Demotivation and disengagement

Inconsistent support and guidance can leave mentees feeling abandoned and frustrated. This disconnect between promised mentorship and reality demotivates and diminishes their sense of belonging.

Additionally, untapped talent due to haphazard or neglectful guidance goes to waste. Lack of consistent mentorship makes promising individuals stagnate, which leads to further disengagement and potential flight risk.

2. Hampered development

If mentorship sessions are held haphazardly, it can disrupt a mentee’s learning journeys. Therefore, they might miss out on crucial knowledge and development opportunities. This broadens the skill gaps they were looking to fill with a mentorship.

Moreover, while good mentoring relationships can increase a mentee’s confidence and empower them, the opposite is true too. Inconsistent feedback and support can leave them questioning their abilities and career paths. A lack of confidence will also lower positive risk-taking and limit proactive behavior. In other words, skill and professional development are hindered.

3. Erosion of trust and culture

Mentorship programs are promises organizations make to their employees. If they fail to live up to those commitments, it can breed distrust and lead to employees questioning their commitment to the organization.

Some may begin to feel they’re being treated unfairly. A feeling of inequity can have a negative effect on a workplace’s culture and ruin team dynamics and collaborative efforts.

Find out about other reasons mentorship programs fail here.

Tips for tailoring mentoring styles to organizational needs

We’ve seen how failed mentoring programs can wreck workplace culture. So, what should an organization do to prevent that from happening? 

A good idea would be to assess organizational and employee needs and then match suitable mentoring styles to them. For instance, fast paced industries that demand innovation can opt for facilitative styles while coaching would be better for companies requiring quick leveling up of skills.

Companies should also consider offering a variety of programs to employees rather than enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach. Whether they’re formal, peer-to-peer, or reverse, offering different mentoring styles empower employees. They can then choose the style that best suits them.

And, sure it’s great to focus on mentees, but sometimes, it’s the mentors who need attention. By investing in ways of developing mentor skills, an organization can widen the types of styles they a mentee can adopt. Some key mentoring skills that can use sprucing up include:

  • Active listening
  • Communication
  • Constructive feedback

Encourage mentors to be culturally sensitive and study different learning styles and preferences. The stronger trust and rapport they can build across diverse backgrounds, the maximum impact of the mentoring program will be.

Finally, leverage tech to create a flexible and adaptable mentoring program that will evolve with the organization. Online tools and platforms that facilitate matching, communication, and progress tracking, like Together, will make it easier to provide tailored support for a personalized experience for each individual. It will also let a company monitor progress and tweak programs for even better results.

Let’s explore this with a hypothetical example.

A rapidly growing tech giant is known for its innovative culture. They’re facing a challenge in maintaining an accelerated rate of innovation and cultivating a more inclusive employee experience. Their existing mentoring program is a one-size-fits-all failing to engage all employees. 

How can this organization use the tips mentioned above to come up with a successful mentoring program?

  1. By mapping needs to styles, the company identified they needed a style that encompasses both rapid skill development (coaching) and out-of-the-box thinking (facilitative style).
  2. Instead of one program, they went for three. The first was formal and directive for new hires requiring specific skill development. The second one was peer-to-peer, facilitative style for senior teams with a focus on brainstorming and collaborative problem-solving. The final one was for reverse mentoring.
  3. On the mentor side, the tech company set up online training modules on diverse learning styles, effective communication, and cultural sensitivity.
  4. They partnered with ERGs to encourage cross-cultural mentoring relationships and address specific needs of diverse groups.
  5. The tech they used helped them track progress, gather feedback, and identify areas for improvement. After brief readjustment of the program durations, matching criteria, and mentor training focus, they were able to improve the results.

Following these steps could potentially have boosted innovation (in the form of more patent applications), enhanced engagement (indicated by employee satisfaction), and improvement in key technical skills (evident when new hires continued to perform well).

Figuring out mentoring styles & their uses

It’s clear there’s more than way to mentor employees. Organizations also need to understand they’ll need to take on a nuanced approach when choosing mentoring styles for overall success. They must start by embracing diversity in mentoring programs that answers the needs of the mentees-in-question and satisfies the requirements of the company. 

What’s more, off grounding a mentoring program is just the beginning. Organizations will also need ways of managing the different programs and track their mentees’ progress. That’s a lot of work to hand without a dedicated software at hand. 

It’s also why we recommend trying Together as a solution for adopting a flexible and inclusive approach to mentorship, and accommodating different mentoring styles. It’s scalable so companies of all sizes can use it. 

Additionally, it simplifies the whole process from start to finish, including registration, pairing, feedback collection, and co-collaboration. Users can also monitor the results to tweak or scale a program as it runs or later.

Learn more about our mentorship platform today.

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