By Marty Nemko
Most of us wish we had someone guide us to career success.
Alas, for most of us, such a mentor is just a fantasy. Here are seven steps for making it a reality.
1. Identify one or more people with expertise you crave. Choose someone you sense you’d connect with emotionally as well as intellectually.
Sources of mentors: colleagues in your workplace or at one of your competitors, members of your professional association, alumni of your alma mater, speakers at professional conferences, authors of articles or books you appreciate. A listing of web-based sources of mentors is at www.mentors.ca/findamentor.html.
Don’t ignore potential mentors that are younger than you. Younger people often can help you understand the next generation’s mindset, update you on technology, or even reenergize you—the enthusiasm of youth can be infectious.
2. Write or phone a potential mentor with a request that will require no more than a minute or two of the person’s time: for example, the answer to a specific question, or for a book or seminar recommendation.
A frequent mistake of mentor-seekers is to ask, right away, “Can I take you out to lunch”. Many people worthy of being a mentor are very busy. Retirees may be an exception.
Unless an expert is unusually open-minded, don’t raise too many questions about their advice. Raise your concern to another trusted person.
Look for an opportunity to help your potential mentor. Does the person seem overwhelmed? Offer to do a little work for them to take the pressure off. Does she seem lonely? Keep the conversation going or ask the person out for coffee. Is he going nuts trying to train his dog to stop peeing on the carpet? Google “housebreaking dogs” and email your potential mentor the best cures you can find.
Don’t necessarily focus on finding just one mentor. With most successful people being busy, you might be more successful assembling a stable of a few mentors, each of whom you only call on, via email or phone, just for snippets of help. I have a Dream Team of world-class mentors, most of whom I call on infrequently, but which, collectively, keep me growing.
3. If you get help from a prospective mentor, thank them with a hand-written thank you note. You might want to spring for expensive note cards. The cost difference is trivial; the impact often significant. The note cards I use are made of hand-made paper and are often commented upon.
4. Continue making request for bits of their expertise.
5. If it feels appropriate, write brief emails or notes every one to six months to keep your potential mentor(s) apprised of your progress. A mentor is more motivated to keep helping you if they know their input is helping.
6. At some point, if you get the sense that your potential mentor might be willing to spend more time with you, make a request such as, “Might I watch you at work for an hour?” or “Would you be willing to watch me work for an hour, “ or “Can I take you out to lunch—your favorite place?”
7. If you find yourself valuing a mentor a great deal, consider asking if you can work with him or her, perhaps just on one project for starters.
Throughout, try to ensure that both of you are finding the interaction rewarding. In my favorite mentoring relationship, Dr. Michael Edelstein and I spend 30 minutes on the phone each Friday morning. In the first 15 minutes, he tells me about a problem he’s grappling with and I try to help. In the 2nd 15 minutes, I tell him about a challenge I’m facing and he tries to help.
For more information on being a good mentor or protégé, see www.mentors.ca.
© Marty Nemko 2004-2018. Usage Rights