I am in a fortunate position to receive a lot of requests – both from people I know and those I have never met – to “be their mentor.” While I am always flattered that someone wants to learn from me, the cold ask is not a method I advocate for finding the mentorship you need.
Instead, follow these five steps:
1. Know what you are looking for and when
Finding mentors is not supposed to be like collecting baseball cards. You don’t just go after every high-profile business person you meet. Instead, think about what kind of information, connections and assistance will be helpful for you right now. This will likely change during the course of your business – a great mentor for when you are starting out will likely be different than the one when you are thriving. So, be really clear on what you need to help you find the best fit.
2. Shoot low
Yes, everyone would love Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson and Warren Buffett as a mentor. But not only are they not likely the best fit for what you need, they are really busy and most likely have no connection to you.
Look to people in your network that have the relevant information you are seeking. You might find it is a peer who has walked that path before, or an immediate boss that’s most likely to add value to your professional development.
3. Keep it informal
True long-term mentoring comes out of growing a long-term relationship. So keep your sights on someone you know or have met. Then, instead of asking someone to “be your mentor,” which sounds very formal and possibly like a big obligation, make a more reasonable ask: “Do you have time to answer a few questions or grab coffee?”
Most people advocate dating before you get married. The same goes for mentors. As the relationship grows, it may resemble a mentor-mentee relationship, or you might just get a few valuable nuggets and move on.
4. Check in and update
Don’t expect someone who “mentors” you to chase you down. If someone provides you great information, connections or advice, keep them posted on your progress from time to time as you advance. Then, if it seems appropriate, you can seek additional counsel.
5. Seek five-minute mentors
I personally have never had a permanent mentor that has guided or shaped my career. Rather, I have learned from a series of individuals of whom I asked questions or made connections along the way.
Don’t pressure yourself to just find that mythical one person who will take you under their wing and make you a billionaire. That’s on you. However, there are plenty of daily learning opportunities from people who have been successful (and have failed). Take the initiative to identify those learnings and build upon them.
About Carol Roth: Carol Roth is the creator of the Future File™ legacy planning system, “recovering” investment banker, billion-dollar dealmaker, investor, entrepreneur, national media personality and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. She is a judge on the Mark Burnett-produced technology competition show, America’s Greatest Makers and TV host and contributor, including host of Microsoft’s Office Small Business Academy. She is also an advisor to companies ranging from startups to major multi-national corporations and has an action figure made in her own likeness.
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