Examples of influential mentoring relationships

Here are nine famous mentors and mentees to inspire your own search for a mentor.

Matthew Reeves

CEO of Together

Published on 

August 24, 2022

Updated on 

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At Together, we understand how impactful mentoring relationships can be within an organization — from helping newcomers integrate well into the organization or learn additional industry skills to advance their careers. 

We love to see companies invest in mentorship because, when done correctly, mentoring programs positively influence both individuals and company performance.

To inspire your mentoring relationship or program, we’ll dive into examples of famous mentoring relationships and unpack what makes a great mentor.

Let's dive in!

What makes a great mentor?

While anyone can try their hand at mentoring, the best mentors have the skills to teach, advise, and direct mentees towards their goals. These examples of mentors are highly skilled professionals with years of industry experience. And they understand what new mentees need to grow in their positions or within an organization.

Here’s what makes a great mentor:

  • They are willing to work closely with mentees to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and goals.
  • They’ve been in the industry for many years.
  • They provide direction, advice, and resources, not just orders.
  • They offer new challenges and help mentees develop problem-solving skills.
  • They provide support, perspective, and encouragement.
  • And they make new opportunities available to mentees.

Are all mentors the same? Different types of mentors

Every mentor has a different mentoring style based on their own strengths. When you identify what each mentor does best, you can leverage and give mentees what they need most from the mentorship program. 

Here are a few different types of mentors and responsibilities to consider:

  • The advisor. These mentors use their experience and expertise to help their mentees find the right course of action by offering advice. Advisor mentors are ideal for mentees looking to follow a similar career path as them.
  • The coach. This type of mentor listens, identifies challenges, celebrates achievements, and helps mentees hone specific skills. In this way, they adhere to many of the core principles of coaching and mentoring.
  • The challenger. These mentors challenge their mentees by focusing on developing their problem-solving skills and other essential skills. High achievers will benefit from having such a mentor. 
  • The clarifier. These mentors use their experience and knowledge to assist mentees in learning more about the organization and their role. Since they work more like a companion, they are best suited for independent mentees who don’t require much direction.
  • The sponsor. Mentees looking to grow upwards and network within an organization will benefit from having a sponsor-type mentor. These mentors advocate for their mentees and help them connect with others within the company.
  • The connection broker. This type of mentor provides their mentee with multiple growth opportunities – from networking to skill-development – as per the mentee’s career goals.
  • The protector. These mentors are supportive, encouraging, and approachable. They attempt to create a safe space for their mentee so they can grow or transition in a less stressful and overwhelming way.
  • The affirmer. Similar to the protector, this type of protector is also a good listener and supports mentees through tough situations.

Examples of famous mentoring relationships to learn from

One of the best ways to determine how to set up your mentorship program is to see how others have done it successfully. 

Over the course of history, there have been many notable mentorships. And successful people involved in these mentoring relationships have highlighted how mentoring helped them achieve their personal and career goals.

Here’s a look at examples of famous mentor-mentee relationships. 

Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg

How they met

Before Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, he revealed that he had served as a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg while writing his biography. But after Jobs’ death, Mark Zuckerberg confirmed the mentorship by paying tribute to Steve Jobs, thanking him for being a mentor and a friend. 

Key learning

Both admitted that they admired and respected each other and what they were both trying to do for the world with their companies. Jobs gave Zuckerberg advice on how to reconnect with his original mission when things weren’t going so well with Facebook in the early days. He even shared places he had been (specifically a temple in India) when he needed to remind himself of what he wanted to achieve with Apple. 

This is the kind of mentorship that is highly notable due to the success of both individuals and the companies involved in the partnership as well as the longevity that they both still have to this day. 

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates

How they met

Both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have stated in the past that their meeting was initially not of choice and that they were both reluctant to spend time with each other, wondering what they would have to talk about and why they should take time out of their day to be polite. But they hit it off, and Buffett challenged Gates with questions that made him think about things differently regarding IBM and Microsoft. 

Key learning

Bill Gates stated that he had learned how to manage his time and prioritize people as a result of his meetings with Warren Buffett. But this mentorship didn’t just cover software and business management. When he turned to philanthropy, Gates credited Buffett as the person who ignited the desire to be more impactful in other ways. With Buffet, Gates learned what it’s like to be a good and analytic businessman and also how to deal with larger, world problems like poverty and disease. Bill Gates has used the same philosophies and transformed this mentorship into a global recognized partnership with his ventures.

Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams

How they met

From a young age, J.J. Abrams had been inspired by the work of Steven Spielberg. When Abrams was a young teenage director, he had the opportunity to organize and clean up old Spielberg movies. And in this process, he inherited a long-time mentor and friend. 

Key learning

Steven Spielberg was impressed by Abrams’ work ethic and creativity and supported him on his filmmaking journey. They even collaborated on the film Super 8, with Abrams directing and Spielberg producing. Spielberg also encouraged Kathleen Kennedy at Disney to hire Abrams as director for the upcoming Star Wars production, The Force Awakens in 2015. 

Abrams has talked very candidly about looking to Spielberg for guidance in the past, for help with scripts, film endings, and budgets. This mentorship really helped him with his productions and opened up a series of opportunities for him.

Richard Branson and Sir Freddie Laker

How they met

Back when Richard Branson was having trouble getting Virgin Atlantic off the ground, he sought guidance from airline engineer, Sir Freddie Laker. Branson has stated he wouldn’t have made it in the airline industry, if it wasn’t for his mentor. And for it to work, he needed to believe and accept that he required a mentor and had to get rid of his ego to succeed in his new approach.

Key learning

Due to what they were both trying to achieve, there was a lot of learning in failure. Branson was very clear in saying that a good mentor not only shares how to be successful with their mentee, but also how to approach failures. And so, a big part of their mentorship was learning from both their successes and failures.

Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou

How they met

Oprah Winfrey met her mentor Maya Angelou in the 1970s when Oprah was in her twenties and just starting her career. And she credits Angelou as being the greatest mentor she’d ever known. She called Angelou one of the greatest influences in her life. At this point, Winfrey was already a fan of Angelou and connected to her through her award-winning book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Key learning

Winfrey was looking for a way to grow her business and personal relationships, and looked to Angelou for advice on building trust and relationships. Winfrey said that she always remembers the most solid piece of advice she received from Maya Angelou was that actions speak louder than words and not to take a person on who they say they are, but how they act toward you. 

Oprah Winfrey was born into poverty, and through her determination, drive and focus on relationships with great influencers, she became a millionaire by the age of 32. By 2000 her net worth was $800 million. In terms of mentorship, Oprah states that she wouldn’t be where she is today without advice and guidance from Maya Angelou.

Ray Dalio and P. Diddy

How they met

Ray Dalio and Sean “Diddy” Combs first met at a Forbes ‘100 Greatest Living Business Minds’ photoshoot in 2017. Diddy approached Dalio, asking him several questions, and they have since enjoyed a successful years-long mentee-mentor relationship.

Key learning

Dalio advised Diddy on how to get “his team to live up to his ‘very high’ level of excellence.” He also suggested that Diddy practice “radical open-mindedness” by accessing and evaluating different points of view without letting ego interfere. And what made this mentorship successful was that Diddy was very receptive. Dalio mentioned that he was willing to look and listen and learn.

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors and her network

How they met

Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, tapped into her network to find valuable mentors she could learn from. Her career was influenced by two mentors at different stages of her career. She explains that different people see certain aspects as one grows in their career, and this perspective helps you focus on what’s important in a given moment.

Key learning

One mentor advised Barra to be more vocal in meetings, while another taught her the importance of keeping commitments. Through her network of mentors, Barra could weigh multiple opinions and perspectives and make informed decisions. Her success demonstrates the importance of having multiple mentors and mentoring opportunities.

Simon Sinek and Ron Bruder

How they met

Simon Sinek met Ron Bruder professionally, and they got along well. When Sinek had a question he thought Bruder could help him with, he reached out to him, and their mentoring relationship started.

During the course of their mentorship, Sinek learned that Bruder looked at him as his mentor too. And that their relationship was also more like a friendship or companionship.

Key learning

That mentoring evolves over time and can also be a two-way street where both learn as much as they teach. Sinek even says, “What I never understood, until I met Ron Bruder, was that mentors learn as much as they teach.”

Mark Timm and Kevin Harrington

How they met

When Mark Timm realized how his businesses received first priority – placing his family second – he understood that he needed some things to change. He turned to a friend, and accomplished mentor, Kevin Harrington from Shark Tank for advice and wisdom on how to win in business and his relationships.

Key learning

Through their mentoring relationship, Timm learned how to balance work, life, and relationships so that they can coexist and thrive harmoniously. 

Additionally, both Timm and Harrington believe that “the more you mentor others, the more success will come back to you.” Over the course of their relationship, they discussed how their lives were changed by mentoring and training others, and how this further fed into their own personal growth.

Build your own mentoring stories

Part of growing personally and professionally is realizing you need help and reaching out to find that support. A workplace mentor can assist you in setting and working towards desired goals with encouragement, wisdom, and experience.

But how do you get started with mentorship in the workplace?

Your organization can use a mentorship platform like Together to encourage employees to participate. Such a platform makes it easy for employees to register, seek out and match with mentors, and advance in their career goals. You can even set up different types of mentoring to give mentees the support they need and the best shot at growing.

Planning a mentorship program? Get started for free! Request a demo to see how Together works.

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