Everyone can use a mentor. Scratch that — as it turns out, we could all use five mentors. “The best mentors can help us define and express our inner calling,” says Anthony Tjan, CEO of Boston venture capital firm Cue Ball Group and author of Good People. “But rarely can one person give you everything you need to grow.”
In this short list, Tjan has identified the five kinds of people you should have in your corner. You probably already know them — and it’s possible for one person to cover two or more categories — so use this list as both a guide and a nudge to deepen your bond with them.
One reminder from Tjan: Mentorship is a two-way street — a relationship between humans — and not a transaction. So don’t just march up to people and ask them to advise you. Take the time to develop genuine connections with those you admire, and assist them whenever you can.
“If you know you want to be the best in your field — whether it’s the greatest editor, football quarterback, entrepreneur — ask, Who are the most iconic figures in that area?” says Tjan. This person can function as your personal Jedi master, someone who’s accumulated their wisdom through years of experience and who can provide insight into your industry and fine-tuning your skills. Turn to this person when you need advice about launching a new initiative or brainstorming where you should work next. “They should help you identify, realize and hone your strengths towards the closest state of perfection as possible,” he says.
This mentor is someone who will talk you up to others, and it’s important to have one of these in your current workplace, says Tjan: “These are people who are advocates and who have your back.” But they’re more than just boosters — often, they can be connectors too, introducing you to useful people in your industry.
Another name for this type: Your best work bud. The copilot is the colleague who can talk you through projects, advise you in navigating the personalities at your company, and listen to you vent over coffee. This kind of mentoring relationship is best when it’s close to equally reciprocal. As Tjan puts it, “you are peers committed to supporting each other, collaborating with each other, and holding each other accountable. And when you have a copilot, both the quality of your work and your engagement level improve.”
This person doesn’t have to work in your industry — in fact, it could be a friend or family member. While your champion supports you to achieve specific career goals, your anchor is a confidante and a sounding board. “We’re all going to hit speed bumps and go through uncertainty in life,” says Tjan. “So we need someone who can give us a psychological lift and help us see light through the cracks during challenging times.” Because the anchor is keeping your overall best interests in mind, they can be particularly insightful when it comes to setting priorities, achieving work-life balance, and not losing sight of your values.
“When we say the word ‘mentor,’ we often conjure up the image of an older person or teacher,” says Tjan. “But I think the counterpoint is as important.” Pay attention to learning from the people you’re mentoring, even though they may have fewer years in the workplace than you. Speaking from his own experience, Tjan says, “Talking to my mentees gives me the opportunity to collect feedback on my leadership style, engage with the younger generation, and keep my perspectives fresh and relevant.”
Watch his TEDxBeaconStreet talk here: