I didn’t know what a mentor was before one chose me. I didn’t know that there were variations in the engagement, benefit, and term of mentors. I only knew that having a mentor meant having someone who takes an active, supportive interest in you.
I find that many students have only the minimal understanding when I mention that I am a mentor. Some even seek out mentors only to be turned away with the question, “What do I need to do?” Some students become discouraged thinking that the mentor should know what their role entails. Recognize that only those who identify themselves as mentors, guides, advisors, and coaches have an identified and ready role. Others will need you to explain the options for them. I suggest that you learn about the Qualifications of a Mentor before approaching others.
So that you are not in the dark about mentorship and reaching out to potential mentors, I would like to take the time to break out Mentor levels. Keep in mind that everyone you perceive to be capable of mentoring is capable, willing, or qualified to mentor you. These mentor levels are to be applied to those that can. Even those that are capable, willing, or qualified are not equal. The more of the following qualifications of mentors observed, the more engagement, benefit, and longer term you can expect.
- Social Cognition
- Relevant Experience
- Learning & Self-Development
Level 1: Basic Mentors are judged based on availability. Basic mentors only have to commit to 1) answering your calls, and 2) answering your questions. They are great as sounding boards for ideas–especially ideas that you are not certain about. These mentors can provide an expanded perspective or questions that cause you to examine the details more closely. They act as a knowledgeable filter between you and the information you are bombarded with.
Example: One of my proteges (that’s what I call her) was in the showroom of a car dealership. She wanted the car. They wanted to sell her the car. She called me just before signing on the dotted line. “What’s the interest rate?” I inquired. She told me it was 15%. I told her to walk away. She did. She went to another dealer, got the car she wanted, for 9% interest. Still high by my standards, but significantly lower that 15%.
Level 2: Confidant Mentors are judged based on social cognition. Social cognition is similar to faith. It is a sense you have that the mentor believes in you. It is both support and motivation because you feel supported in a way that allows you to risk. Even if your risk doesn’t pay off, you know that the mentor loves you unconditionally.
Example: My grandmother was this type of mentor for me an many others. Just as you would expect from a grandmother, I could do nothing so wrong that she would deny me her love. When we disagreed, she encouraged me to follow my heart and pay attention to the lessons. When the risks paid off, she was proud to excess and showered me with even more love and adoration.
Level 3: Guiding Mentors are judged by their relevant experience. They offer guidance and advice. Their guidance and advice are particularly cogent because these mentors have been where you want to be. Preferably, they would have continued to move and progress in that arena. Because they have been where you want to go, they provide insight into your options and your potential challenges.
Example: My master degree program director was this type of mentor for me. She is the reason I pursued the doctor of philosophy degree. She also was the first to hire me out of that doctoral program. College professors are perfect guiding mentors. They have learned, practiced, and evaluated the within the field to which you aspire. Many have insight into the process and the pitfalls of the profession. Their advice about classes, internships, attitudes, and approaches can be invaluable as you seek to make fewer mistakes than they made. Find one who wants you to surpass them in achievement, notoriety, and income.
Level 4: Developmental or Challenge Mentors are judged based on concepts of learning & self-development. These mentors will know you better than you know yourself. Because they know who you are, your abilities, and your weaknesses, they can guide you toward fulfilling experiences, learning opportunities, and process reflections. The mentor challenges you to achieve beyond your perceived level of ability often requiring you to learn something new or acquire new skills. The mentor facilitates your learning and expands your perspective.
Example: My best friend is this type of mentor for me. He is always interested in my progress and activities. He always shares his progress and activities. I look up to him for what he has accomplished and his perspective on life. He actively engages me in reflection on my goals and approaches, challenging me to learn and articulate my perspectives both clearly and authentically.
Level 5: Collaborating Mentors are judged by the reward they enable you to secure. Their focus is on investment in you and certain returns (including financial returns). The mentor offers you something you do not have investing in you with a clear communication of how you may utilize the investment to increase your productivity. More than just communicating opportunities, this type of mentor works with you to access opportunities, develop proposals or work plans, and finish projects.
Example: My favorite person in the world is this type of mentor for me. She was the first person to both recognize my contribution to a project and have a project that offered opportunity, authorship and royalties. Since that first project, she has included me on grants and book contracts resulting in income for us both.
Level 6: Colleague Mentors are judged by reciprocity. Reciprocity is an economic term suggesting that a relationship have at least two parties that both give to the relationship and benefit from the relationship. You and the mentor identify something each of you have that the other wants. You then agree together that this identified contribution is something that you are each willing to share. The sharing leads to a greater sense of self-worth, potential to expand reach, and inspiration. This mentoring level may begin with two parties, but is not limited to just two.
Example: My wife is the best example of this type of mentor for me. Beyond the marriage contract, our relationship is about building each other in specific ways based on our unique gifts and interests. I have seen dyads work with mothers and daughters, co-workers, and good friends as well as spouses. In my experience, my wife and I have expanded to include our 3 children to create a larger group for mentorship and inspiration.