The Grand Guide To Mentorship


- Joseph Kopser, Leadership & Innovation Expert.

The corporate scene has become all the more hypercompetitive.  Recruiting and retaining talent has been one of the most important aspects of any company culture today.

More than ever, people will need (productive) mentorship to succeed in business or advance their careers. A groundbreaking 2008 research published by  the Harvard Business Review revealed vital facts about mentorship and mentoring;

The Grande Guide to Mentorship

So, it’s not surprising that 76% of professionals believe mentorship is vital for growth. What’s indeed surprising is the fact that only 37% of people currently have mentors.

If mentorship programs are seen as so vital for growth, why are there so many people overlooking this opportunity?

Over the course of my life, from two decades in the US Army, as a serial entrepreneur and business mentor, as a thought leader in energy and national security, and as an executive-in-residence at the McCombs School of Business, I’ve realized two simple but essential things.

But it’s also critical to remember that mentorship is also a two-way street!

Often, the problem is not just about the mentee (or protege). Not everyone has a personality suited for mentoring relationships. So, it could be the case of being stuck with the wrong mentor.

And while mentorship is supposed to be a positive mutual experience, mentoring gone wrong tends to create long-lasting damage. This shouldn’t be you.

Table of Contents

Joseph Kopser is a leadership coach, business mentor, and innovation expert helping businesses and individuals adapt to the changing nature of work to drive (real) growth.

What is mentorship?

Mentorship is a lot of things.

For many of us it could be the traditional route, a senior colleague takes a junior colleague under their wing, I met General Bob Cone, one of the best mentors I’ve had over the years, in this way. We first met while I was starting in the Army, he was my Squadron Commander. However mentorship is becoming a lot more unconventional, with diverse professional mentoring programs becoming more popular by the day.

That said, there’s something all mentorship programs have in common.

Whether it’s traditional senior-junior mentor-mentee relationships, peer mentoring, or any of the other unconventional mentorship programs, it should be personal in every sense of it.

To me, mentorship is more like standing on the shoulders of giants  learning from their mistakes and success to apply in your own life

And I agree with John Crosby when he says, 

“Mentoring is having a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”

John Crosby

I once wrote in a paper,  Mentorship: Not Everybody Gets It But Shoulda mentor’s role is different from that of a boss, a coach, or even a teacher. For those roles, it’s their job to lead, coach and teach you.  For a mentor, it’s an option they choose.  Oprah Winfrey said a mentor helps you see the hope in yourself. I say a good mentor gives you a comprehensive all-around view of yourself, your world, and your environment– from a personal and professional context. 

Good mentors help you identify new approaches to daily challenges in your professional life while not being tied down to the ‘now.’ They can also help you get a month-by-month, year-by-year trajectory, so you don’t lose sight of the big picture.  They do this by providing help with how you see yourself and your future career.

The different types of mentorship

There are different types of mentorship, depending on who you ask. 

According to the University of California, Davis, there are three main types of mentorship. These would be;

  • Traditional one-on-one mentoring: A case in which mentors and mentees are linked by mentorship programs or on their own. The mentor-mentee relationship is structured by the mentorship program’s timeframe or as preferred by the participants. It’s often the case with older, senior, and more experienced professionals mentoring their young, junior colleagues.
  • Distance mentoring: UC Davis defines this as a mentoring relationship where the participants are in different locations, sometimes referred to as “virtual mentoring”
  • Group mentoring: Here, a single mentor mentors a group of mentees. Mentorship programs like this are often structured to allow the mentors to direct the pace, activities, and progress.

Additionally there’s peer mentoring, wherein a colleague or co-worker who holds the same level of responsibility or is at the same career stage as the mentee(s) in the mentorship relationship. Peer mentors are often within similar hierarchical levels but have more experience in a particular domain and can provide the mentees with the support , knowledge and skills required to succeed as they often face comparable professional challenges and work issues.

The different types of mentors

In a similar vein, Anthony Tjan, CEO of Cue Ball Group, in a TED publication, opines that there are at least five different types of mentors. According to the author of Good People, your mentors should include some or all of the following five types;

  1. A “master of craft” mentor helps you identify, realize, and hone your strengths towards the closest possible level of perfection in your professional career or industry.
  2. The “champion of your cause” mentor who not only helps you become your best but also regularly talks you up to others. As mentors, they are also advocates, connectors, boosters, and everything in between!
  3. A “copilot” mentor, as in peer mentoring, where colleagues and peers collaborate to mentor each other. Both parties support and hold each other accountable. This is especially beneficial for workplace engagement, productivity, and satisfaction.
  4. The “anchor” mentor who might not necessarily be experienced in your field but acts more like a confidante and a sounding board to give you a psychological lift when you hit life’s speed bumps and uncertainties. This type of mentor could be a friend or a family member.
  5. A ”reverse” mentor, which in this case, is often the younger and less senior person in the mentoring relationship. It’s more like learning from your mentees in areas where they seem to have more experience than you.

Mentorship doesn’t end with age and seniority. You can collect feedback from mentees to improve your leadership style or engage more with younger, junior colleagues to keep your perspective relevant and fresh.  

How mentoring and coaching differ

I can’t stress this enough; coaching and mentoring are worlds apart.

This is one of the most common questions people have asked me over the years. As someone with enough experience of both, I am in a place of authority to help you understand what is and what exactly isn’t, as far as mentoring and coaching go.

coaching and mentoring

Here’s the truth;

Both coaching and mentoring require similar skills and are both excellent professional development tools. The key differences, however, are the structure and outcome.

Here’s how the International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching;

“Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

On the other hand, the World Education Services (WES) defines mentorship as;

“A relationship between two people where the individual with more experience, knowledge, and connections is able to pass along what they have learned to a more junior individual within a certain field.”

While mentorship is non-evaluative, highly personalized, and primarily driven by the mentee, coaching, on the other hand, is evaluative (performance-based), repeatable, and driven largely by the coaching relationship’s agenda. 

Differences between a business mentor and business coach

Small Biz Trends also differentiates a business mentor from a business coach based on focus, structure, timeframe, and outcome, among other things.

You would expect a business mentor to help mentees with career growth and the development of interpersonal skills. More specifically, a mentor is more like a professional advisor and role model mixed into one. I often tell audiences, “People Will Be What They Can See” and effective mentors understand the importance of this role modeling.

Unlike a coach whose roles are limited to a specific timeframe, a business mentor’s role would evolve as mentees’ needs change over time. Most mentorship relationships are often informal, although they could still be formal.

A business coach or any coach, for that matter, helps their client focus and improve on specific skills and development goals. They help clients clarify their growth visions as well as prioritize their goals.

While coaching is formal and often short-term, mentoring is long-term and mostly informal. A business mentor might have first-hand experience and expertise in your field, while a business coach might not necessarily have first-hand work experience from the industry the person is coaching.

Differences between mentoring and coaching. Image Credit: University of the People

Professional mentoring programs

As much as 70% of Fortune 500 companies offer both formal and informal mentorship opportunities for employees. This is understandable, as mentorship is vital for companies invested in employee development. You might want to check out my recent Catalyst TALKS with Janice Omadeke, CEO of Mentor Method, a startup redefining mentorship to help mentees meet the needs of the future.

Perhaps your organization is considering professional mentoring programs too.

This is guaranteed to offer some sort of competitive advantage. While there is no one-size-fits-all model on which to base the structure of your corporate mentorship program, such programs must be structured around the participants (mentors and mentees), the primary purpose of such programs, as well as the program style and format.

With the above in mind, here are a few recommendations and tips to help improve the reach and effectiveness of corporate or professional mentoring programs;

  1. Ensure to clarify program outline so participants can go in with clear expectations of their contributions in such programs. This is important for fruitful mentorship relationships and is a key part of two pieces on mentorship highly recommended by Rick Lynch. Rick is a retired Army 3-star and a longtime mentor of mine. The first piece is an HBR publication on What Efficient Mentorship Looks Like. Rick also recommends another insightful piece on Tips for Mentorship Success by Caroline Ceniza-Levine on Forbes.
  2. Making professional mentoring programs topical rather than universal can also help. This makes the scope of the relationship easier for mentors and also makes it easier to identify mentors.
  3. Encourage self-matching at times, so it feels like both the mentors and mentees have significant ownership of the process to pave the way for a fruitful mentoring relationship.
  4. Develop mentorship support systems. This may include providing training and ongoing support for mentors to help them better manage challenging conversations, as well as their biases and expectations. Effective mentorship doesn’t stop after setup. Instead, ongoing support is needed to ensure it continues to flourish.

Alongside the above, professional mentoring programs should also encourage recognizing mentors. Not only will this go a long way as a positive reinforcement for current mentors but also as an encouragement for potential mentors. 

Email me here and I will give you my personal and professional recommendation for which program you should consider signing up for first.   


Paying it forward

Finally, it’s crucial to encourage paying it forward.

Mentees still need to be engaged even after the professional mentoring program appears to be over. I detailed my mentoring relationship with the late Bob Cone in this piece on Mentorship. I remember we still kept in touch even after our formal relationship was over.

We would talk on the phone, via email, and even visit in person when we could. And like a real “champion of your cause” mentor, Bob was gracious with connections when appropriate and would regularly advise me in matters related to the military and beyond.

Much like I also do with my mentees, Bob would ask, “What do you want for the future?” not stopping there, he’d question me asking “How will you get there? Then what’s your next move?” he was like an eye from the watchtower for those of us caught in between trenches. Like I mentioned here, the key to utilizing a mentor is in keeping in touch!

How to establish productive mentoring relationships

How do you leverage mentorship to drive personal and professional developments? First, you need to establish it. In my academic journal piece on Mentoring in the Military: Not Everybody Gets It, I mentioned a few tips that could help set up mentees for productive mentoring relationships. Here are some of these tips;

  1. Define your goals and needs with specificity so you can see where a mentor might help achieve these. This should be preceded by a careful evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses. A serious self-assessment can maximize the benefits of mentoring.
  2. Find mentors through your network; it could be LinkedIn, etc. It’s possible that some potential mentors might be busy and may decline your request, don’t shy away from making your request known in any case. If they’re busy and won’t be able to mentor you, let them be the judge of that. Oftentimes, the simplest place to start are former colleagues that you respected for their leadership style.  I tell audiences often, “People will be what they can see.” Therefore, you should start by seeking out people you admire and ask to share some of their time– you don’t need to “ask for some mentorship” just ask for some advice on a challenge you are facing.
  3. Observe mentoring rules of engagement (ROE) and etiquette
  • Ask, and keep it simple. Asking people to be your mentor after the first or second meetings might seem awkward. Frankly, you never actually need to “ask” for someone to be a mentor… you just seek them out in the two-way relationship.
  • Have a first meeting to get to know your potential mentor before expanding on your conversations, and ensure you schedule a later date for followup 
  1. Understand that loyalty is needed for a fruitful mentoring relationship.
  2. Follow up regularly and show your appreciation after every meeting.

Of course, not every mentorship relationship will follow these exact lines of events.

You can meet mentors anywhere, from your professional circle to networking events, online mentorship networks, etc. While mentorship is not the be-all and end-all of career and personal development, it’s something you can’t afford to miss if you want to improve both on and off your job. 

I learned a great deal more from Bob than he probably appreciated.

This influenced my approach to treating soldiers, mastering the basics, and how never to take oneself too seriously. Bob’s mentorship made a significant impact on my professional life as a soldier, which didn’t even end after I left the Army. Unfortunately, he fell to stage four prostate cancer not long after being promoted to a four-star general rank.

Bob’s passing hit me hard, and that’s the way it is with a good mentor and friend. But I’m still grateful for the lessons I learned from that highly productive mentorship relationship. If you also care about developing your personal or professional life my advice is find a potential mentor you want to be like, study them, and ask when you need advice and guidance.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Sign Up To Get Joseph’s Strategy Of The Week


Phone: (877) 624-5777


Follow Me Around the Web