The Apochromatik Guide to Mentoring: Part V – The Three Types of Mentors Every Professional Needs to Succeed

—Amy M. Gardner 

During National Mentoring Month, we’ve talked about mentor and mentee expectations, and differences between sponsors, mentors, coaches, and friends.  We also addressed how to know whether you’re ready to be a mentor.  Today, we’re tackling the three types of mentors that every professional needs to succeed. If as you read this, you realize you’re missing one or more of these three essential mentor types, know that you’re not alone, and download the free Apochromatik Mentor Finder tool by joining the Apochromatik email list.  

Untitled Design.jpg

First, you must have a mentor who is senior to you, who we refer to as a “Senior Supervisor,” because they should also have seen your work first-hand.  Second, you need an “Aspirational Leader” mentor – someone at a different organization or employer within the same field whose career you would like to emulate.  Third, you need an “External Expert,” a mentor who has a different background than you have.  For all of these, don’t limit yourself to people in your city, especially if you are in a smaller town; remember that you can keep in touch and develop your relationship through calls, or on FaceTime or Google Hangouts.  Mentoring is too important to your career to allow distance to get in the way.  

Why do you need a Senior Supervisor mentor?

This is probably the most obvious one of the three mentor types. You need someone who has been there and done that. They have a broader perspective, they know where the bodies are buried within your employer, they can take the long view, they have more power in the workplace, and they can be helpful if you need sponsorship.  As we covered previously, ideally your mentors and sponsors are different people, but a mentor might be able to reach out to a colleague and say, “I would really appreciate your help. I’ve worked a lot with Sarah. I would really appreciate your vote for her when it comes time to decide on promotions.”

Why do you need an Aspirational Leader mentor? 

You need a mentor at another organization and in whose footsteps you would like to follow.  This mentor is important not just to provide inspiration, but also to provide perspective.  

You’ve probably heard the expression, “to a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.”  The idea is that if you just have your head down in the horseradish, you lose perspective about the rest of the world.  Having a mentor who is at a different organization or employer helps you pull your head out of the horseradish and take a broader view.  In addition, you almost certainly will not be at the same employer for your entire career or even five years from now.  Having a mentor at a different organization can help you better understand your industry and be prepared to move within that industry. 

Why do you need an External Expert?  

The External Expert is someone who has a different background than you do, whether they work for the same employer or not.  (If they are at the same employer, you are looking for someone who is in a different area – an engineer being mentored by someone from marketing, for example.  Or you may be mentored by someone who works in the same field at the same employer but grew up in a different country.)  

You may have been involved in formal mentoring programs, which are often organized around affinity, whether that is gender, race, or going to the same college.  Those programs can be incredibly helpful (link to Wednesday’s post), but if you are going to be purposeful about your mentors to maximize their positive impact on your career, you also want to have a mentor of a different background, whether that’s through a formal mentoring program or someone you find yourself.  

Whatever your own background, don’t only look for mentors with the same background.  For example, don’t write off 49% or 51% of the population by assuming you can only be helped by people of the same gender  Likewise, don’t assume that the only mentors who can be helpful to you are the same race, ethnicity, religion, or went to the same school.  If you do that, you are keeping yourself from being able to benefit from valuable perspectives different from your own.

And if you’re a mentor, look at people different from you as potential mentees, both for their growth and development, but also your own and your profession’s.  

We hope you’ve found the Apochromatik Guide to Mentoring helpful.  This series grew out of suggestions from reader AK.  If you have suggestions for future posts, please leave them in the comments.  And please remember to join our email list to download the Apochromatik Mentor Finder: The Five Step Method to Find Your Mentor.    In five steps you can gain clarity quickly.