I was asked again recently if I would be someone’s mentor. I cringed a bit, sent some encouraging words over email, and offered a phone call (but didn’t say yes to the Mentorship bit). I haven’t heard back. And therein lies the rub, if I, who espouse the values of “Lift as You Climb” and strongly support mentoring others won’t rise to the call of the “Will you Be my Mentor?” – who will?
A couple of weeks before, I had a valuable conversation with one of my mentors. This individual has never gotten any official label or badge from me – no formal program at my company, or weekly coffee time – all those things you think of when you hear “mentorship”. The Paddington Bear and Me in those Hallmark commercials.
This mentoring conversation was the opposite of any formal program. We were at a conference, reconnected, and I expressed gratitude for how some of his team members had helped me recently. He asked how I was doing, and I told him about a concrete issue/struggle I was facing.
He started really engaging in the conversation, and we sat down in the corner of that party. In ten minutes he helped me identify the issue (I was having trouble trusting my intuition) and we shared a laugh about another incident that happened recently.
This is what mentorship looks like, in the real world.
As I reflect on the many, many people like this man who have helped me I know that I have many mentors. In fact, I have one person who I ask specifically for advice on sales. Another I ask for advice on teams. Another for advice (and even practice!) on speaking and presentations. All are my mentors. I call on each for semi-regular advice. None have an official badge.
5 rules to Find a Mentor in the Real World
Don’t Ask Someone to be Your Mentor.
Counterintuitive, yes. But the “mentor” label is too big an ask, and too ambiguous. Unless it’s a corporate tea party, it’s not going to happen. Instead – ask someone for something ultra-specific. “Can I talk to you about your advice on motivating employees when they aren’t meeting their goals?” “Can you help me think through how to break this project into smaller steps?”
Lead with Why
Why are you asking THEM for this advice, vs. someone else (especially important when you don’t know the person well). And if it’s because you want to get to know them better, forget it. That’s an informational interview. Don’t confuse mentorship with connections. This is where you want to really flatter someone, in an authentic way. “I want to ask you about managing employees because I’ve heard members of your team talk about how much they like working for you.” If you don’t have a specific reason for asking them, then don’t waste their time.
Be Specific about the Time Commitment (and then stick with it)
The scary thing about being asked to be a mentor is that it has no time boundaries. Make a specific ask for a reasonable timeframe. “Could I buy you coffee in the next two weeks to talk about ….(#1 above) because …. (#2 above)…” “Would you be willing to schedule a 30 minute phone call with me to talk about…”
I’ve found lots of success in pulling folks into a deeper conversation while we’re meeting at an event. After all the fluff conversations, you’d be surprised what could happen when you tell someone: “I’m really struggling with this right now” and they may proactively start a conversation about it with you (mentorship in 10-minute increments is still mentorship!)
Circle Back and tell them What happened
As a mentor, I’m 100x more likely to accept a follow-up invitation or engage in another meaningful conversation at a conference if the person has circled up with me to tell me about how they reflected or acted upon our earlier conversation.
The more specific you can get here as well the better – “I had the conversation you suggested, and here’s what happened….”
Gratitude goes Further
If someone is providing meaningful advice to you take the time to tell them so. The more specific, the better (back to #4!).
Speaking of gratitude, I’m taking time this month to circle back with folks who have taken the time to have these meaningful conversations with me. And don’t forget your peers! Peer mentorship is some of the best there is…