Bill Gates has his Warren Buffett. Luke Skywalker has his Yoda. Kanye West has his, uh, Kanye West.
You’ve read or heard much on the power and importance of mentors. But how do you find the right one for you? And how do you get past that intimidating, even scary step of approaching someone to be your mentor?
Wonder no more my dear readers. I shall mentor you on these very questions.
First, just how do you choose the right one?
And no, there’s no such thing as Mentor Tinder, so you’re going to have to do your homework.
Here are five things to look for in your ideal mentor–and then five ways to reel them in:
What to look for in a potential mentor
1. They have a propensity for willingness.
You shouldn’t be timid in asking for a mentor, and you certainly want to increase your chances of getting a “yes”. So it’s important to look for leading indicators as to whether or not someone is likely to say yes to a mentor request.
Are they involved in the community? Do they have a track record of mentoring? Are they known for being an “others-oriented leader“? Good signs all.
2. They ask more than they answer.
While you want advice from your mentor, you want the right advice that’s tailored to your unique situation, skills, and development opportunities. Mentors that ask a lot of good questions are putting effort into efficiently helping you, and helping you help yourself.
How do you find out if they have this skill set?
Ask around if they’re known for asking a round (or two) of questions, versus just dictating answers.
3. They embody characteristics you want to emulate.
Every minute spent with a mentor is precious, so you may as well be a) looking forward to being around them, and b) looking to absorb, reinforce, and replicate shared values.
4. They’re not too much like you.
You want core values and beliefs in common, but you don’t want your mentor to be a replica of you. Are you extroverted? Consider an introvert mentor (or vice versa). Not the best communicator? Look for a public speaking stud.
You get the idea.
5. They’ve succeeded in your field.
Not everyone will agree with this, citing the need for diversity of wisdom.
Thanks, but I’d rather take somebody who has “been there, done that” and can help me be there and do that, too. Someone that will hold me accountable on my own path to success.
How to reel them in
Now that you’re circling around a targeted mentor, it’s time to land the plane. Here’s the approach:
1. Be prepared, but not presumptuous.
While you want to assume success in your ask and show up prepared, understand that you may get a “no.” Show emotional intelligence, indicating that you know you’re asking for a commitment–and that it’s a privilege to get a “yes”.
2. Share why you’re asking them in particular.
Be sincere and specific without being butt-kissy.
3. Share why you’re a good fit for them.
Again, be sincere and specific. Include how you might be a potential value-add to them.
4. Be clear on what you want from the relationship and why.
If you don’t know what you want, they won’t know how to help–and they’ll surely gracefully withdraw from the relationship.
Be willing to negotiate and be flexible on how, when, and where the mentor sessions take place.
5. Share why you’d be a great mentee.
As Sheryl Sandberg indicated in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, mentors want to know that you can be successful, that you have potential, and that you’re not just some random lost soul who’s throwing darts. They want to know their investment will pay dividends.
So choose wisely, stick the landing, and make the most out of the force that is mentorship.