Mentors can be essential to your career. You can’t just take anyone, however. You need to identify, approach, and maintain mentoring relationships carefully. Here’s how.
Find Mentoring From Competent Mentors
And if it isn’t obvious, make sure your mentor is competent in the areas you’ll be wanting guidance. You know that loser who never quite met the sales quota, but is still employed, thanks to being the CEO’s firstborn child? Not the person to go to for sales advice…but perhaps the person to go to for psychological insight into the CEO.
A funny thing about competence, however, is that it depends on the area. A highly competent salesperson can suck at strategy, and vice-versa. But some competent people believe their competence in one area makes them an expert in other areas. If you choose a mentor like this, take the good stuff, but know where their competence ends, and remember than when deciding what to take seriously.
Approaching a Mentor
Mentoring is a choice someone will make that will take time and expertise. Mentors are a bit like cats. You may like the cute furry one with stripes, but if it doesn’t like you back, you’ll end up with bloody scratches in embarrassing places.
When you approach a prospective mentor, do so in a way that shows the most respect for them, their time, and agenda. Give them some idea of why you chose them and what kind of commitment you would like from them. “Excuse me, Chairperson Bosara? I’ve respected you since arriving at this company. Your judgment in the infamous Twinkie incident was impeccable. I would like to learn to be that awesome. Would you be willing to meet with me quarterly and help me develop that kind of judgment?”
Don’t Make Mentors Do the Work
Your mentor is contributing wisdom. You contribute initiative! Do all the work of contacting your mentor, arranging times to meet, and making it super-convenient for them.
Thank Your Mentor
Mentoring isn't free. Your mentor gets something out of the relationship, too. What they get is the intangible pleasure of helping a promising young person, the way someone once helped them. Or something more sinister, like the chance to betray you at the last minute, turn you into their pawn, and sacrifice your firstborn child in a supernatural quest to take over the Elder Spheres. Whatever it is they get, do what you can to give them respect, help, and appreciation.
Thank them. Send a hand-written Thank You card after you meet. Once you’ve established a relationship, drop them a line occasionally with no agenda other than expressing how much you appreciate your relationship. “Len, your presence in my life has made a huge difference. I appreciate your guidance, perspective, and help. Thank you!” You’ll probably be the first person who’s ever done that. It will make a huge impression.
Ending a Mentorship
All good things come to an end. We know that because entropy always increases. But even before that, mentoring relationships may come to an end. When that happens, you may elect to remain friends, or you may cut ties altogether. Check out my previous episode on how to gracefully move on from a mentor for details.
Eric Pasinski saw me speak in public and asked me to mentor him. He's taken the initiative to pursue me even when I've been busy and non-responsive. He gets on my calendar. He travels to me, he's respectful of my time, and he sends gracious, hand-written thank-you cards. When we get together, I happily share advice, perspective, and contacts I would charge thousands for with a regular consulting context . Hmm… I do give him an awful lot. I wonder if he's planning on having a firstborn child. I only need one… Bwah hah hah hah hah!
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!