Are You Ready for a Mentor?
By David Meadows
Published: February / March 2008
What is a Mentor? Dictionary.com states that a mentor is “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher” and goes on to say, “an influential senior sponsor or supporter.”
So then, if a mentor teaches and supports why do so few people choose to seek out mentors?
It’s my belief that we all have informal mentors or advisors, but sometimes we just don’t formalize the mentor relationship in a way that could help us grow by enormous leaps and bounds.
My first mentor was my best friend’s father who was an entrepreneur who owned a manufacturing plant in the town where I grew up. At age twelve, my friend John and I would go with his father to the factory and drive the forklift around the warehouse and then we would go into the conference room and eat sugar cubes! What I didn’t know then is that I was building a network of people and experiences that helped to shape my life as an entrepreneur. Now, twenty-five years later, Jack Jeter is still one of my most valued mentors.
Throughout the years, I have had numerous mentors including famous entrepreneurs such as John Paul DeJoria who founded the $600 million John Paul Mitchell Systems.
Each of the mentors whom I approached provided me with inspiration, education and access to influence through my genuine and sincere interest to garner wisdom and to learn their secrets of success. What I have found is that most individuals are flattered and honored to become a mentor, provided that they clearly understand the goals, time commitments and expectations that are set forth in the relationship.
So, how does one approach and secure a mentor?
First, you must have a reason to have a mentor. Sounds logical and it is because one should never approach a potential mentor without having a reason to engage him—everyone is short of time and the mentor needs to see value in your reason for approaching him.
Ask yourself, “What are the areas where I need guidance?” Could it be in areas of personal, professional, spiritual or social growth? If it’s professional, could it be with navigating the corporate ladder, launching a new business, entering a new industry, trade or specific role?
Where do you find a mentor?
Once you’ve found your interest area, begin thinking about where this “niche” mentor might exist. Start with family, friends, coworkers, peers, customers and clients who can provide a warm referral to a potential mentor or a connection to one. Consider searching for mentors at local industry events and through articles in the media including trade and mainstream publications, websites and even via searches with Google™ search words relevant to your desired niche and location.
When you find a couple of unique individuals who appear to be leaders in your desired niche area, simply introduce yourself! If you’re at a local “in-person” event, provide a firm handshake with eye-to-eye contact. It sounds simple, right? It truly is and you just have to do it.
There’s an old saying, “Be interested, not interesting.” Ask them questions about how they became an expert in their industry, what resources they use to keep up in the niche area and ask about other industry events and publications. Before exiting the conversation, be sure to ask for their business card.
If you enjoyed the conversation and feel that there could be value in spending more time together, you must then write a hand-written note to them within two days. Be sincere in your note and say, “It was a pleasure to meet you Mr./Ms. Jones at the “event” and I truly enjoyed our conversation. I would very much like to spend just fifteen minutes asking you a few more questions about the “niche” area and I’ll call your office to see if we can schedule a brief meeting at your convenience. Sincerely…”
Follow up within one week by calling their office to schedule a “brief” meeting. Don’t be discouraged if they can’t see you right away. Persistence is what pays big dividends in any leader’s mind.
Persist until you have the meeting, but not more than once per week, and then prepare a list of questions that you would like to ask them. This really is an information interview and an opportunity to get to know one another.
If the meeting goes well, you then present the concept of them becoming a mentor to you. What is your goal? Would you like to meet with them once per quarter for one hour? Would you like to be able to send them a few questions via e-mail every couple of months or place a call to them? If you really find a good match, you might even encourage lunch every other month.
You must present a plan to them that demonstrates your sincerity, enthusiasm and desire to learn from them. I always say, “Mr./Ms. Jones, I want to build a strong relationship with you where you learn about my integrity and passion for success, so that some day you might refer me to your network of influence.”
It’s easy, so follow the plan and put this task on your calendar now!
It’s worked for me and it can work for you!
About the Author
David Meadows is the Executive Director of the United States Center for Entrepreneurship. USCFE's 2008 Teleseminar Series empowers a global audience to listen and learn live with some of the world's brightest minds, world-renowned entrepreneurs and best-selling authors. Listen, Learn, Grow and Network call 1-800-969-1143.