Variations on Traditional Mentoring

We’ve all heard of mentoring and the value it can bring to a person’s level of productivity and success, as well as to their short-, medium-, and long-term career trajectory. But in my experience, there are too many people who don’t get full value from the traditional form of one-on-one counseling, sharing, and support that we call mentoring.

Fortunately, there are some other approaches to the same kind of career accelerant that may better fit your work and your life.

They include:


Rather than getting a more experienced person to help someone less experienced, the idea here is for a less-experienced person to voluntarily hitch his or her wagon to that of someone more experienced, higher up in the organization, or otherwise farther advanced along a particular career path.

Think about how grandchildren can usually help their grandparents understand and make use of modern technology. In the same way, a younger, less-experienced “adherent” can usually offer a great many helpful insights and useful information to an older person of their choice who hasn’t fully kept up with a variety of recent but important developments. This help can encompass areas of technology, social norms, business and lifestyle practices, available resources and services, networking, and much more.

In practice, this one-way street nearly always turns into a two-way street. As the “adherent” proves him- or herself useful and trustworthy, there develops a natural flow of savvy know-how that would have taken the “adherent” many years to acquire through his or her own personal experiences. Don’t be surprised if a feeling of closeness also develops, which often manifests as outright career assistance and advocacy that can be invaluable to the “adherent.”


A wide range of organizations encourage more-experienced people to help less-experienced people through a relationship they call “sponsorship.” It’s basically the same idea as mentorship, but it’s more of a two-way street.

In this variation, the sponsor accepts the “sponsee” as a person s/he would like to see make more and faster progress along his or her career path. To assist the “sponsee,” the sponsor tries to function as a combination coach and advocate. Where a mentor is likely to take a more passive role and simply provide advice or perspective when asked, a sponsor more often initiates contact, offers instruction as well as advice, and may even give the “sponsee” various forms of private “homework” to beef up his or her skills, knowledge, and experience.

What’s more, in some cases the sponsor may go to bat for the “sponsee,” advocating for him or her to receive more authority and responsibility, promotions, or better assignments.

Of course, in doing this a sponsor puts his or own reputation on the line. So it’s natural for the sponsor to expect loyalty and support from the “sponsee,” as well as to demand higher performance standards and extraordinary efforts toward specific tasks, projects, and goals that the sponsor deems important.


Another variation on the basic mentoring paradigm is peer-mentoring. Here, instead of a more-experienced person working with someone less experienced, the idea is for a handful of peers to advise, coach, and support each other. This group can meet at regular intervals, or can be called together for specific reasons as needed by any of the members.

This approach has many advantages over traditional mentoring, because having a selection of people on your side potentially offers more connections, as well as a wider range of knowledge and experience. It also eliminates the difficulty of convincing the right mentor – presumably someone who’s busy and very much in demand – to accept another drain on his or her time. In fact, it’s usually much easier for you to organize your own peer-mentoring group than to find and persuade one heavy-hitter to mentor you.

This variation can also provide greater continuity, because the departure of one member of the peer-mentoring group doesn’t put an end to the process. In fact, many different peers can rotate in and out of the group from one year to the next, offering smooth transitions as your career advances and even when it changes direction.

Mentoring is well-recognized as an important and helpful way to more effectively face the challenges of your day-to-day work, your longer-term projects and goals, and your career aspirations. But if traditional mentoring isn’t working for you, or you can’t access it, you may want to utilize one of these variations to obtain the very same benefits that can boost your level of productivity and success.  

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