Three Essential Mentoring Relationships We All Need

In my research, I discovered three key mentoring relationships that foster growth on teams. Let’s take a look at each and consider how they might already be showing up in your life and workplace. Open a new document or grab a pen and paper. You’ll want to make a few short lists of these mentoring relationships in ministry (etc.) to get the most out of this discussion.

The first type of mentor is the Wise Guide. One of the first Wise Guides in my life was my grandmother. I remember driving as a young mom with my kids in the car. Grandma would be in the passenger seat listening to me rant about something that set me sideways. She would listen patiently, then she would say, so calmly, “But God is still on the throne.” 

If anyone else had said that I’d have wanted to throw things. Grandma had lived enough life for me to want to listen. And her words brought me calm and confidence. To this day, that comes back to me when I encounter a frustrating situation. 

Since then, I’ve been blessed by so many Wise Guides. And now I am one. 

List the Wise Guides who have influenced you over the years. Can you think of someone who cared enough to invest in you? To let you know you’re valued? To pull out of you the contributions that you could make? Consider, even if you’re a more mature team member, do you still have a Wise Guide today?

If you’re a team member who is older, more experienced, or who has been with your organization for a while, you are a Wise Guide whether you intended to be one or not. And it’s always best to be intentional.

Here’s our second list: write down who you are a Wise Guide for. Those coming behind you. Those looking to you for your experience and advice.


The next type of mentoring relationship in ministry, workplaces, or life that today’s research highlights is called peer mentoring. I like to call these Side Guides. Side Guides are those we work side-by-side with. The wisest man who ever lived wrote: 

“Two are better than one…If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NIV)

There’s a large body of research about the transformational power of mentoring relationships. The literature compares the benefits of training with mentoring for developing people in organizations. Training is an event. Mentoring, on the other hand, is a professional development tool in which a less experienced team member seeks advice, learning, and support from a more experienced professional. Unlike training, which may be required, mentoring is an ongoing social learning relationship between two people.

Organizations can send new team members to trainings and bring them back – and that is somewhat effective. BUT what has always produced effective results is assigning the new person a peer mentor to work side-by-side with them. This provides intentional peer support and exponentially accelerated learning and development for newer team members. 

Additionally, 90% of employees who have a career mentor are happy at work, according to 2019 CNBC/SurveyMonkey data. Vistage reports that 86% of CEOs and business leaders credit their mentors for helping them achieve professional goals. Forbes emphasizes, “Companies that invest in their people with mentoring programs weathered the storm [think Covid] much better than those who did not.”

List your Side Guides. Who are you a Side Guide for? Who’s a Side Guide for you? Where might there be opportunities to foster these peer mentoring relationships in your work? In other areas of your life?


The third type of mentoring relationship is often called reverse mentoring. In my organization, we call these Surprise Guides.

At the dawn of the internet era, junior team members gained a quick understanding of new technologies and how the internet could be used in the workplace. Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, popularized this concept by pairing junior team members with senior team members in strategic reverse mentoring relationships. The junior members helped mature teammates become familiar with and implement the integration of new technologies. Surprise Guides began popping up in corporations everywhere. Less experienced colleagues bring a fresh perspective and knowledge of new tools into our cultural contexts. 

Surprise Guides ask questions. Sometime lots of questions. There are a number of case studies that uncovered an incredible part of this principle at work. In mentoring relationships where a senior team member was listening to a Surprise Guide, the junior mentor became more open to the knowledge and the rich experiences of their senior teammate. 

Many of the youngest members of our teams bring rich, new fresh perspectives, along with experiences and expertise. And if we’re willing and open to learn from them, often they open up to learn from us as well. So, it’s a two-way street. 

Take a few minutes to list your own Surprise Guides. You might be a Surprise Guide, by the way. So think about that too.

In my organization, one of our core values is irresistible mentoring. Because mentoring that is not irresistible will be resisted. I’ve talked with a number of organizational leaders who believe they’ve established mentoring as part of their culture and have concluded it doesn’t work. They say their people resist mentoring. Do your mentees resist being mentored? If so, work on making it irresistible. 

This exercise of listing out your Wise Guides, Side Guides, and Surprise Guides is one you can do alone, and with your whole team. You may find that it helps members show respect and appreciation to those guiding them, and to take responsibility and initiative to mentor others.

Mentoring matters because people matter. While valued as a professional development tool, mentoring improves the quality of life for mentors and mentees alike. 

I developed a free resource: A Guide to Irresistible Mentoring. It’s a guide and workbook you can download (again, totally free!) that includes research and exercises to help you and your teammates walk through these three foundational mentoring relationships for ministry, work, and life together. Get it here!

Leave a comment about where you see these three types of mentoring relationships in your ministry, organization, or life. 

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