When we hear the word mentorship, we typically think of someone seasoned walking along someone who is less experienced and seeking to learn from their wisdom and mistakes, and that would be correct — as one aspect of mentorship.
The reality is mentoring is all about relationships, and there are plenty of relationships we can learn and grow from. Not everyone has to be further ahead to teach us something.
I look at three types of mentoring relationships, which we should all have in our lives:
Level 1: Those who came before you
Level 1 relationships are with those who are beyond where you are in your current journey. That journey might be in your career, parenting, marriage, faith, fitness, health – any journey.
Your Level 1 mentors are the ones who can show you where they’ve been, share their mistakes and lessons learned, and answer questions you might have. This is who we think of when we think of traditional mentoring, those who pour into you.
For each area of your life that you’re serious and focused, I recommend having one to two Level 1 mentors who you can connect with. You might have someone different for each area of your life.
Level 2: Those who are alongside you
Level 2 mentors are those who are in the trenches of life with you, whatever the journey area is. If it’s marriage, they’ve been married a similar amount of time. If parenting, they have kids who are similar ages. If fitness, they’re working on similar goals.
Your Level 2 relationships are the ones who you can talk operations with. How are you all getting to your goals? What have you each learned from your Level 1 relationships that you can try together and tweak? They’re the friends and peers who you can hold space and accountability for.
For each area of your life that you’re serious and focused, I recommend having three to four Level 2 mentors you can connect with on that topic.
Level 3: Those who are coming behind you
Level 3 relationships are those who are a season behind you in your journey area. Perhaps you’re married and they’re engaged. You’re a director and they’re an analyst. You’re competing in marathons and they’re training for a 10k.
Your Level 3 relationships are the ones for whom you can be a Level 1.. You get to pour into them and share your own wisdom, mistakes, lessons learned, and recommendations.
Not only that, but you get to learn, because things change. I’ve found that when I share as a Level 1 to someone else’s Level 3, most of my wisdom works, but there might be a slight pivot in how things are done and I get to stay current by providing that feedback.
For example, if you’re mentoring someone on communication at work, but your role depends mostly on e-mail and their organization has moved to Slack, there might be some things they can teach you, as well. And not just about technology, but appropriate communication differences within that technology.
For each area of our life that we take seriously, I believe we should always have 1 person who is a Level 3 to mentor. You can have more, but the quality of the relationship matters, so don’t burn yourself out trying to be Super(wo)man.
Meaningful leadership in action:
Write down the areas of your life you are strongly committed to growing in. For each area, note if you have relationships that are Level 1, 2, and 3. If not, keep your eye open for someone who could be a good fit, and when you find them, have a clear conversation about expectations, boundaries, and what you each will bring to the table.