In reflecting on the year so far there are a plethora of things that have gone wrong and right. Each one unique and with varying levels of intensity. Until a few years ago I would have tried to go through it alone. Still today, all the confident parts of me say I would have been fine. All the experienced parts of me recall the difficulties and extra time it takes when I’ve gone solo.
Leaning into my experience, this year I found mentors and hired a coach. Both of which continue to provide highly impactful outcomes and work like a North Star of sorts.
It’s nearly impossible to have a business conversation where mentorship doesn’t come up. It should be no surprise to anyone. As the world dealt with an unknown threat to our health and economy, everyone was searching for a way to understand, predict and profit through it. All while trying to keep perspective and stay sane through the isolation of quarantine.
This search for understanding and community increased screen time and drove people to online communities like LinkedIn, RevGenius, Revenue Collective, Sales Hacker, SDRDefenders and countless others. People had a place to ask questions and receive plenty of advice with little to no barrier to entry.
As with all platforms that allow anyone to post or give advice, there is plenty of good and bad being given. With an increase in individuals creating content it’s becoming even harder to tell who a trusted voice is versus someone adding noise. To add a little more complexity into the equation, the people who can spot bad advice aren’t the ones who need it! So, if you’re searching for advice, how do you know who’s legit or not? That is what I am going to try and help you with today. How to cut through the garbage and find the right mentor for you. But first, you’ve got to look at yourself.
It’s impossible to get help if you don’t know where you need it. Before you can get a mentor, you have to understand your strengths and weaknesses. This should relate to your current role and gaining mastery of it. Take some time to sit down and ask yourself a few questions:
· What am I good at?
· What am I great at?
· What do I struggle with?
· What do I know little to nothing about?
As you answer these questions, layer in past successes, struggles and proof points. This will help you understand your areas of competency and areas of growth. If you have friends and family, and you’re comfortable talking to them about this, ask them to answer these same questions about you. Always having proof points to validate their comments.
The next thing you need to get on paper are your career goals. Is it to be the best seller? Is it to be a sales leader? Is it to be a VP, CRO, CEO or Founder?
This part of your self-reflection exercise is all about defining where you want to go. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is. The important thing here is it will provide you with direction in the near term. It’s OKAY if your career goals change. Most people’s goals change and it’s why finding a mentor isn’t a one and done deal.
Now that you’ve taken the time to understand your areas of growth and where you want to go, it’s time to find a mentor who can help get you there. While you can find a mentor anywhere, the three main areas I’ll focus on today are at your job, on a social network or from a group you belong to.
Finding a mentor at work
It is highly unlikely that your direct manager's boss will take a vested interest in you as an individual. Sure, they want to see you succeed and grow. It’s hard for them to take the time to invest in your success when they’re so far removed from your role. In addition, there is likely a fear of favoritism that will shy them away.
Something similar can be said of your direct manager. They should be invested in your success and career aspirations. That doesn’t make them a good candidate to be your mentor. When push comes to shove, they’re going to be looking out for themselves and if you’re consistently not meeting your goals, they’ll be the ones who have to fire you or move you to a different department.
With both of the above individuals, it will likely be difficult to open up and really talk about where you need help and what’s going on at work. You don’t want to be an energy suck and you don’t want to seem negative. In doing so, you’ll be hurting yourself and your progress.
That leaves us with peer-to-peer mentorship and something that offers huge benefits, fast. Go find the best person who’s doing your job and ask them to go to lunch. Let them know you respect and admire their accomplishments and want to see similar success.
If they agree, which most will, come to lunch prepared. Have all your questions written out, make sure they are specific and written with an intended outcome in mind. These questions should seek to address your growth areas and will help you find success based on proven methods.
The one caveat to this is when you or your higher ups leave the company. If this happens and you felt that your boss or bosses’ boss would have been a good mentor, then stay in touch with them. As soon as you work for different companies, they could become a candidate for being your mentor.
Finding a mentor on a social network
Since I know LinkedIn best, and it is a professional network, my comments will be focused there. However, my advice will likely work on any platform where your industry leaders are at. I haven’t validated that statement, so if you know I’m wrong, let me know!
With 250 million monthly active users, LinkedIn is the premier professional platform to engage with people who have been successful at your current role and in the roles you want to progress into. Today, there are several lists that call out top voices, award winners and all industry thought leaders. Go look them up and follow them. This is free advice from people who have done it before and will be your foundation to grow your network.
The individuals in these groups who create content will have high engagement. Live in the comments section. See ones you like? Reach out to that person and connect with them and start following their posts. Rinse and repeat this and you’ll start to grow your network. Be mindful of which people are constantly commenting on things that teach you something and are thought provoking. These people are intriguing potential mentors.
It’s also important for you to put in the work here. You’ve got to engage, comment and be thoughtful. Bring your experiences to the table and become known. As someone who has posted regularly on LinkedIn, trust me, we know who the frequent commenters are, and we know the ones who always have something great to add. If you consistently show up and provide value in other people’s lives (or posts) it will resonate.
Once you start to develop this relationship (it takes months, not weeks) you can move from the comments on LinkedIn to a private message or email. This should start with a small ask for a specific piece of advice. Once the advice is given, go implement it and come back to that person with the results.
When you do this thoughtfully over time you’re building up to requesting someone to be your mentor. You’ve taken a vested interest in their work and shown you value their advice. Now, by the time you finally do make your request you know each other well. It is more of a formality; however, your ask shouldn’t be assumptive. There’s a good chance you’ll still hear NO and that’s OKAY. You’ve developed a relationship with someone who has still helped you and whose content you’re still interacting with and benefitting from. If they say YES, then it’s time for you to add some structure and be proactive in driving the agenda of your meetings and offering up where you’ve identified growth areas.
Finding a mentor from a group you belong to
If you’re going after an active member of a group this is similar to finding a mentor from a social network. I’ll focus on passive members who are likely to be the best candidates to mentor someone. This is because passive members are often busy and focused.
To find a great passive member in a group you need to be an investigator. In small settings or one on one conversations you have with members, ask them if there is anyone else they respect. Someone who could shine light on a topic you’re discussing. If you see common names pop up, you know you’ll have someone good.
Engaging this person will be like any other cold outreach. I suggest including some or all the names of the people who referred you to this person as well as why you’re reaching out. Be specific, flattering, and humble. It might take a few attempts. If they agree to meet, make sure you’re well prepared. Like before, if they provide you with advice, make sure to implement it and report back with your results.
Since all good things take time, you’ll need to do this several times before you make your mentor request. The request should be the same as described in the social network section.
There is a lot of bullshit advice out there, you’ll need to sift through it as you search for your mentor. I’ve had success in validating people by looking at four things:
1. What is their track record of success?
2. Have they walked the path I want to walk (recently)?
3. Have they done the job I’m doing (recently)?
4. Are they consistent in their message?
If you can answer YES to all of these then you’ve found a strong candidate to ask for mentorship.
As a final note, anyone who is looking for a mentor should know that choosing one isn’t a lifetime commitment. As your growth areas change and you grow in your career, you should find a mentor that fits your revised needs. You can also have multiple mentors at one time. The best application of this is finding someone with strategic knowledge to help you with your career and someone with tactical knowledge to help you in your current role.
You should also be wary of anyone who is seeking to be your mentor. “I want to mentor you,” is a phrase that should bring up some warning signals. You should dig into this person’s background on if they’re qualified to be a mentor and why they want to do it. Specifically, why they want to mentor you.
I’ve heard horror stories that start like this. Anyone who I know that is mentoring someone has never sought out a mentee (unless it is signing up for a mentorship program through a group).
Everything I’ve listed in this article I’ve done. I’ve seen them work and have even hired coaches for short stints to pair with a mentor. I found my coaches the same way I described finding a mentor. The map is in this article, it’s up to you to do the work. Be ruthlessly specific with what you want and remember, when you ask someone to be your mentor, you’re asking them for their most precious possession – time.