Behind every successful businessperson or entrepreneur you're
all but guaranteed to find a laundry list of high-value mentors
that supported them on their journey. By now it's common knowledge
that mentors are one of the fundamental building blocks of success,
so why aren't we making the acquisition of mentors a priority? This
week we’re going to break down my step-by-step strategies
for discovering, developing, and retaining high-value
mentors. (Because acquiring mentors and networking require a
similar skill set, check out episode #9 Ten Things Networking Ninjas Know
Mentors are important because they offer a unique
perspective gained only through experience. They've been there,
they've seen it, and they know what it takes to win. Now they are
tasked with passing those skills on to you. Good mentors are
similar to parents, once you're under their wing it becomes
their personal mission to help you succeed. And, when you succeed
they feel like they have succeeded.
Of the young professionals I frequently talk to, one of the
key obstacles I observe between them and success is the lack of a
quality mentor. You can learn all of the right things, do all of
the hard work, but, sometimes, if you don't know the right people,
you're going to have trouble getting off the ground. The
problem is, when you're just beginning to grow your network,
finding high-value mentors can be challenging. That's why I broke
down my proven methods for acquiring mentors. And, if you
commit to following these strategies, I guarantee you will be
courting your first high-value mentors in no time.
- Study Potential
Mentors. When meeting a potential mentor, know more about
them than they know about themselves. Have they written a book?
Read it. Given recorded speeches? Watch them. You need
to educate yourself on whatever it is your mentor has been up
to. This has multiple benefits, you'll gain a deeper understanding
of the person, you'll have a better idea if they are likely to be a
good fit, and they will appreciate your sincere interest in
- Choose Your Mentors
Wisely. Not every successful person should be
your mentor. Mentors are
like any personal relationship, not everyone is suited for each
other. The first step in choosing a mentor is
identifying people that are living the life you want to
- Articulate Why You Chose
Them. Don't blindly chase "successful"
mentors. Mentors should be able understand why it is you
decided to seek them out. What is it about them that you find
unique and enviable? What do you hope to gain from the
relationship? (Hint: none of your answers should be "because
you make a lot of money.")
- Be Visible. If
you want high-value mentors it helps to be in their line of sight.
However, getting in the room with high-value mentors can be
trickier than it sounds. This is where your personal network comes
in handy (your network truly is your net worth.) The larger your
network the more likely it is someone can introduce you to a
potential mentor. You can learn my secrets to networking success
here. Now, if
you're the kind of person that is sitting and waiting for a
high-value mentor to find you, I recommend investing your
savings in the lottery as well. Both are equally viable paths to
- Lead with Value.
Just like networking, it's important to always be
thinking "how can I provide value to my mentor?" Learning about
them, what they do, and their accomplishments is one form of value.
Your network is another valuable resource you can provide a mentor.
The larger your circle the more likely it is you’ll be able to
connect them with a valuable contact when the need
- Do Something, Do
Anything. The last thing a mentor wants to hear is that
you're "thinking about" doing something, or you "have a great idea"
but you're "waiting for the right time." If you want to establish
credibility you need to be doing something now. Even if
it's engaging in the small steps, you need to be actively working
on something, making something happen.
- Target Alumni.
These are some of the easiest mentors to court. Alumni come with
no-assembly-required personal bonds. You took classes in the same
buildings, walked the same streets, cheered for the same team. Use
this to your advantage. "I can't believe they closed Boli's Pizza,
that was our late night spot!," or "Did you see the quarterback
that just committed? Next year is our year!" Best of all, these
contacts are the most likely to return your calls and find time in
their schedule for you. I've gotten face time with high-value
mentors with a simple phone call, "Hi, Mr. Swanson. I don't want to
take up too much of your time, but I'm a fellow ECU graduate just
starting out and I was hoping I could get 15 minutes to pick your
brain?" A week later I'm having coffee and getting career advice
from someone with 40 years of experience in my field. Alumni
love helping younger graduates, it gives them
an opportunity to get nostalgic over the old days while
directly contributing to the success of the school's next
- Only Ask for
Time. It's your first date, so think twice before
pitching them on your big idea or asking for a job. Your job in
that moment is to a) listen, and b) ask thoughtful questions that
show you're serious and that you've done your homework. As the
relationship develops it's likely they'll know what you need, and
you won't even have to ask.
- Respect Their
Time. If they were kind enough to put you on their
schedule, make sure you don't waste their time. So, be prepared and
don't overstay your welcome. When the time you've asked for has
expired, politely say something like "It's been 20 minutes already,
I don't want to take up your entire day." If they insist you stay
longer, stay longer. However, it's vitally important not to linger.
Some people may be too polite to push you out the door, so look for
subtle clues: checking their watch, checking their phone, diverting
their attention to something else. If you pick up on any of these
it's important not to let their discomfort escalate, so try
something like: "I know how busy you are, so I can't tell you how
much I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me. I found your
insight extremely valuable." Trust me, they will appreciate
you giving them the out without forcing them to ask for it. If
this first meeting goes well and you feel good
chemistry, it may be appropriate at this point to ask for the
mentor relationship directly. However, if you're unsure about the
direct approach, at least make a plan to follow up with
- Offer to Pay.
High-value mentors get solicited for advice regularly, so one great
way to stand out is to offer to pay the check when getting coffee
or lunch. You're likely to encounter a refusal, but the gesture
will not go unnoticed. After the third such meeting, I recommend
picking up the check before your mentor has an opportunity. Sure,
the mentor may be far more financially secure than you, but it's
the gesture that counts. It's your way of showing you're serious
and that you value the relationship. Again, this won't go
- Don't Expect an Instant Return. Like
networking, acquiring mentors is a long game. This isn't about
getting $1,000 tomorrow, this is about getting a rolodex of
priceless friends for life. Friends don't send you ONE good
referral. Friends invite you into their circles, friends offer you
executive positions in their companies, friends pick you up from
jail. If you make friends first, the fortune will sort itself
Of all the benefits mentors bring to the table, arguably the
most important is helping you identify the things you don't know.
By using their roadmap you'll be able to cut down on avoidable
mistakes and wasted time reinventing the wheel. If anything, the
benefits of a good mentor are understated, because it can be
difficult to quantify just how much time and heartache was avoided
with one piece of sage advice.
Remember, it's not going to fall in your lap. You're not going
to stumble in to a networking event and walk away with a
million-dollar contact overnight. You may meet a million dollar
contact, but that contact is worthless if you don't put in the
effort to grow that relationship. If you want good mentors you're
going to have to do the work to get them. You have to bring
value and consistently build and nurture the
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