“To get somewhere you have never been, you need people around you who have been there”. If you want to grow beyond where you are today, try to surround yourself with someone who has been there and can help you. You need that person you can go to, preferably externally, who has not only been there but isn’t in the thick of your day-to-day world, so their opinions are not clouded by recency.
Many times, when I hear successful people talk about their careers, they give credit to their mentors they had internally (in their company) and externally (outside of their company). Internally, we are not just talking about your direct manager. It can really be anyone; including peers or teammates in totally different roles and industries within your company.
First, how do you find a good external mentor?
Characteristics of a Good Mentor:
1. In general, they should be someone who has been “there” because most people are more willing to help others if they can relate it to their story. How did they do it and how would they do it if they were you?
2. It needs to be someone that you are looking forward to talking to and seeing periodically.
3. They need to allow you to tell your story and give your perspective. I’ve met some people that fit #1 and #2 and they’re great story tellers, but we never dive into the unique challenges I’m seeing internally and externally.
4. Can a customer be a mentor? Yes. However, don’t ask them to be your mentor because you think it’s a way to stroke their ego, so you get more money out of them. Only do it, because they fit 1-3 above.
Once you determine a candidate as a mentor, how do you ask them to be your mentor?
1. Ask. Most people are flattered and excited to share their knowledge. Explain to them why you think they would be a good mentor and your goals of the relationship. If they are the right mentor for you, the WIFM will be seeing you succeed.
2. This is not someone you need to meet with often; max two to four times per year and lay out that expectation when you discuss.
3. Prepare! Treat these 2-4 meetings per year seriously. Make sure you know what challenges and topics you want to discuss prior to the meeting and send them some notes before to frame the conversation!
4. Over-deliver for them. Remember to learn about them and their WIFM as it relates to the relationship with you. As an example, if their WIFM is seeing you succeed and feeling like they’re giving back, then when you use some advice they give you and it ends up being a success, send them a note, a bottle of their favorite wine, a gift card their favorite restaurant or something unique to them to say, “thank you, it worked.”