Oprah says that “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” Who wouldn’t want that kind of encouragement and guidance as they navigate an uncertain and rapidly changing world?
We have all heard, and some of us have experienced, what an amazing difference mentors can make to our development and progress, both personally and professionally. Yet mentoring isn’t the only kind of guidance we need – and sometimes isn’t even the right kind.
Here are seven different types of guides who can help shape your path in different ways. Don’t let the labels get in the way – whilst they are often using in interchangeable and overlapping fashion, the key point is the different types of support and guidance they represent, and the different ways that can help us along our journey of crafting a deliberate life –
Someone who gives you advice
In the classic mentor-mentee arrangement, the mentor is someone further along the road who can share and guide from the learnings of their own experiences. A mentor might help you navigate a particular leadership role, think through how to get your start-up off the ground, help you chart your career paths, suggest ways to manage a tricky management situation, or consider the gaps in your own skills or character. They may share what they’ve found helpful in terms of decision-making frameworks, developing work-life balance, or developing people. In broad terms, the mentor-type role usually involves a significant element of input from the mentor’s own experience and story.
Someone who asks you great questions
Unlike the direct input of a mentor, the coach role is usually all about drawing ideas and solutions out of the person they are coaching. Coaches live in the space of questions – and then more questions. They continue probing until they get you to articulate the roots factors at play in the scenario that is being navigated, and then challenge you to hypothesise you own solutions. Coaches empower by helping people clarify their own thinking, desires, expectations and situations, and generate self-reflection, solutions and strategies.
Someone who opens doors for you
A sponsor (in the business sense, not the addiction-recovery sense) is someone who opens doors for you, advocates for you, or throws their credibility behind you. In ‘Lean In’, COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg cites research that “Both men and women with sponsors are more likely to ask for stretch assignments and pay raises than their peers of the same gender without sponsors.” Whilst you can’t really ask someone to be a sponsor the way you can a mentor or coach, you can position yourself to respond to sponsorship doors of opportunity by preparation, attentiveness to the responsibilities and opportunities already in front of you, and an attitude that embraces the advice of President Theodore Roosevelt –
“Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”
Someone who helps you process your internal world
Sometimes there is a lot going on in our mind or hearts, often as a result of external circumstances, and we need someone who help us process it. Counsellors are usually trained psychologists, and can help us make sense of difficult situations in a few months instead of the few years it might have taken us if left to our own devices and expertise. A counsellor can help guide us through our own thought patterns and reactions; through old pain and new change. They can be a safe place to check in on our own emotional and relational health, and by extension the impact we are having on those around us. A counsellor can provide invaluable guidance on navigating our own inner world in times of major change or stress.
Someone who helps you navigate your own spiritual journey
Around 90% of the global population is religious, and spiritual advisers are those who can provide guidance in navigating our spiritual journey. Sometimes they are ministers within particular religions, and sometimes not. They can help provide guidance in how our lives reflect that which we believe is most valuable and true, and how that is shaping us internally. Spiritual advisors can provide guidance in how we shape a life that honours what we believe is most important.
Someone whose expertise you can learn from
A guru is an expert in their field (for real – not just someone who’s added ‘guru’ to their twitter bio). They’ve been there, done that, and are still thriving in their industry. You don’t ever have to meet these people to be guided by them – often there are a wealth of resources you can access to learn from their experiences and expertise, like articles, talks, books and podcasts. Gurus are an amazing resource for us all in this digital age. whatever you are passionate about, you can access wisdom and insight from those you may once have had to pay huge amounts of money to perhaps, one day, see at an expensive conference. Now, we can access guidance from gurus 24/7.
Someone who processes ideas and information in a way that helps change the way you think or live
A teacher may be someone who’s sharing directly from their own expertise – but equally, they may be someone who knows how to effectively invite people into helpful information. In his excellent book ‘Essentialism’, Greg McKeown gives this example –
“Jim Collins, the author of the business classic Good to Great, was once told by Peter Drucker that he could either build a great company or build great ideas but not both. Jim chose ideas. As a result of this trade-off there are still only three full-time employees in his company, yet his ideas have reached tens of millions of people through his writing.”
Jim Collins has guided untold numbers of businesses, not because he has a track record of leading large organisations himself, but because he is a tremendous teacher, pointing people to helpful data, analysis and conclusions. Sometimes the help and guidance we need can be accessed most effectively through great teachers, whether via books, TED talks, sermons or articles.
Sometimes when we feel in need of guidance, it can be easy to think it will all be found from one source – If only we could get a really amazing mentor, they would fill all of these needs. The reality is that each of us will navigate a variety of challenges along our path, and will need different types of guidance at different points – and usually several types at any one time. By thinking clearly about the type of help and input we need, and actively pursuing it through different types of guides and resources, we can chart our most effective, and deliberate, path forward.
So which of these types of guidance – whatever the label attached in your life to the person providing it – do you currently have? Which do you need? What steps could you take to access what’s missing?