Mentors are more than a nice thing to have; they are essential if you want to accelerate your career. Mentors make the difference between people who simply advance up the corporate ladder one rung at a time and those who skip rungs.
Studies show that:
– Professionals who have used a mentor earn between $5,610-$22,450 more annually than those who don’t. Among executives interviewed in one study, 75 percent say mentoring has played a key role in their careers.
– Those with mentors have higher job satisfaction, productivity, and retention.
Recently, I had the honor of “innerviewing” Bert Gervais, The Mentor Guy and author of bestseller Who Is In Your Top Hive? Below is a transcript of our conversation about finding and developing great mentoring relationships.
Jullien: What are some myths about mentorship?
Bert: I’ve identified the top 3 Myths about mentorship…
1. MENTORS ARE STEPPING STONES:
It’s important to remember that mentors are not stepping stones they are real people. Build rapport, align interests, and figure out what you can give.
2. ANYBODY CAN MENTOR YOU:
What you’re chasing is wisdom, not titles. You must find someone with the relevant skills, but in order to do that, you need to know where you are in relationship to where you want to be. That’s the only way a mentor can effectively help you. Once you figure that out, remember just because someone is successful doesn’t mean that they can teach what they know.
3. IF SOMEONE TURNS YOU DOWN, IT’S BECAUSE YOU SUCK:
Mentor relationships are like other relationships in that timing and other variables can throw things off. Many times someone may have an increased workload, a new family, or other circumstances limiting their ability to mentor you at the moment. Don’t burn bridges if someone turns you down and ask them to introduce you to someone in their network that may be a better fit.
Jullien: Wow! That’s harsh, but I get it. So what are some reasons that a mentor might not accept your invitation?
1. LACK OF CLARITY AROUND PURPOSE:
Ask yourself, what will the mentorship do for me? How specifically can someone help you? Most people don’t want to sit there while you “figure it out” so approach your mentors with a plan of action, and one or two projects you can work on together.
2. LACK OF CLARITY AROUND TIME COMMITMENT:
Countless times I have heard folks say, “I really wanted to mentor Kelly, but I had not idea how much time it would take, and my ability to deliver.” One of the best ways to take this obstacle off the table is to set the time commitment upfront. “Hey Carl, I would love to move forward with a mentorship and what that would mean would be one coffee meeting a month, and a 15 minute call every other week, for the next 3 months, would that work for you?”
3. LACK OF CLARITY / UNCLEAR WHETHER YOU WILL FOLLOW THROUGH:
It’s in the back of every potential mentor’s mind. “Will this person waste my time?” Create confidence in your mentor by asking for a challenge in the first meeting (i.e. a book to read, a follow up step) and follow through! This is a great way to build quick credibility. That’s why project based mentorships are so effective because they create checkpoints, and small victories to build momentum from.
Jullien: Great answer Bert. My next question is where can you find mentors?
Bert: Well, it depends on the kind of mentor you need. The first person you should identify is “THE STEP AHEAD” mentors in your network. “The Step Ahead” is someone who is just 1 or 2 steps ahead of you career-wise, and you should do this for a couple of reasons.
1. A step ahead mentor is someone who recently went through challenges that you are currently experiencing.
2. They may not be so swamped in their career that they can’t give back and they understand the importance of helping out.
The other person you want to have in your network is what I like to call “THE MUFASA”. Did you see The Lion King? Remember after Mufasa died? (I hope I didn’t spoil that for anybody.) There’s a scene where Simba is lost. He looks up in the sky and sees a clouded image of Mufasa (his dad) and he’s giving him advice.
So for you, Mufasa is basically, someone who sees everything from 30,000 feet in the air. For me, I’ve got a mentor who is about 60 years old. He has sold a business worth over 20 million and he can see all the mistakes I’m going to make so much quicker than I can see them because he has been through it all.
But what I find with his advice is it’s not very timely. Meaning I can’t call him and say “I have this proposal for this project what should I do next.” But I can call him and go “here’s my 2 year plan and where I’m going with my career and what do you suggest?” So understand, different people do different things for you.
Next, you need “THE HAWK”. There was an article in the Harvard Business Review about having a mentor that you kind of fear, or are afraid of a little bit. Have you ever had someone in your life that you were afraid to let down? Whether it’s an accountability partner, friend or mentor, you need someone you are afraid to let down. Someone to lay down the foundation of the mentor network you want to build.
Jullien: Where do you meet these people?
Bert: Well, a couple of places. One of my favorite places to meet potential mentors, believe it or not, is the Internet. Check the local college websites, and find out what speakers they are bringing in. Find out if there are speakers in your industry.
Another place to check out is your high school or college alumni network.
Check Meetup.com, you could be in the healthcare industry, there are meet-ups on healthcare with like-minded individuals. I have a list of 16 useful mentoring websites like http://www.micromentor.org, which is useful for business on my website www.findsuccessmentors.com
Jullien: Great stuff Bert! Now let’s switch gears; before a potential mentee reaches out, explain how they should prepare. You’ve spoken before on the “G.I.V.E. Model.” Explain what that is.
Bert: The G.I.V.E. Model is how you make a mentor relationship successful and long lasting.
The G stands for GIVE.
In give, the key is to really focus on what you can give your mentor through the relationship. A lot of times people think, “well I’m gonna get a mentor and they’re gonna sit and mold me and give me good advice.” The truth of the matter is, today’s mentors, the good ones, are too busy and too choosy. You’ve got to make it a 2-way relationship. Think from their point of view. What can you give in a mentoring relationship? Part of giving is giving back.
The I stands for INITIATE.
How do you initiate a mentorship relationship? And how do you take the initiative? Mentees should initiate the relationship. What’s important is to think about how do I drive this relationship? How can I be the person that makes sure I call my mentor and set up meetings with them?
Or, if we have a meeting, let me prepare an agenda. The thing about the agenda, and people give this as blanket advice, but it depends on your relationship. If you have a close relationship, you might not need an agenda. If it’s a new relationship, they are a board member or really busy, you may want to have 3 bullets with what you want to talk about. You have to get a feel of the person so ask yourself “How do I initiate this relationship?”
V stands for VALUE.
How do I show that I value this relationship? Value is an interesting thing. Everyone’s familiar with Oprah’s book club. If you’re an author, you definitely know about Oprah’s book club. Jullien, you’re an author, what happens when your book gets mentioned on Oprah’s book club?
Jullien: It flies off the shelves.
Bert: Exactly! You might sell a million copies overnight and become a New York Times bestseller easily. Here’s what’s interesting about that – a while back Oprah stopped her book club. She was on a radio show and they asked her why she stopped the book club, and she said for the entire time she was doing it, not one author sent her a thank you card. Not one author. Now, I know some people are thinking, well it’s Oprah right, what’s a “thank you” note to Oprah Winfrey? She’s got billions of dollars. But, if you know anything about wealthy people it’s that the thing they value most are the things they can’t buy. You can’t buy appreciation, you can’t buy gratitude, and you can’t buy someone showing you that they value you and your contributions.
So the way to think about this in your own life is to ask yourself, “How am I showing value to the relationships in my life? Are you giving specific praise?
“Hey, I noticed that when you did x, y, or z the other day and you really incorporated the team members.”
Or “I noticed that whenever you’re in a room, you connect people and I learned that from you, and I’ve been applying that.”
Are you communicating in ways that show you value the mentorship you are receiving? Do you periodically send thank you notes? Are you keeping your mentor up to date with your progress? One of the biggest complaints I hear from mentors about their mentees is that they don’t even send a note about their progress. Did something big change in your life? Did you get a promotion? Or was there a piece of advice that did or didn’t work out? How do you think that mentor feels when you don’t include them? They feel left out.
And E stands for EXPECTATIONS.
All I can say is, have integrity. Have integrity and manage expectations. If you’re going to be somewhere, be somewhere. If you’re going to do something, do it. Give the right expectation. Are we going to meet once a month? Are we going to call or email once a week? Be clear and then do your best to manage those expectations, especially if anything changes.
Jullien: Wow Bert! This is a lot of great advice. Now I would like to open up the line to questions from the High Performers on the call.
Caller Question #1: When you are a young professional entering a field, how do you know if someone is suitable to be a mentor? For example, how do I know if this person will be receptive to me asking them to be my mentor? How do you know if someone would be cool with the idea that I want to learn from him or her?
Bert: Awesome question! I’ll say this you want to separate title and wisdom. What I mean by that is, there are some people with high titles but you have to ask yourself…
1. Can this person teach what they know?
A lot of people know things, but they don’t understand how to teach what they know? Look at how they interact with other people. If someone asks them a question, are they taking the time to break down the steps or asking them to figure it out themselves? The other thing you want to tease out in your conversation with that person is…
2. Have they ever been mentored?
If you go to any mentorship workshop, one of the first things they do at mentor training is ask you the questions “Have you been mentored?” and “What does that mean to you?”
The truth of the matter is if you don’t have a compelling answer to that, most times you don’t feel compelled to give back. For me, I can think about 2 inflection points in my life that could have gone completely a different way. If someone didn’t step in and really mentor and guide me.
Also remember to start giving value to them. You may have some aligned interests and values and that person might say, “Boy, this person is a lot like me. They create value. I want to help them in anyway I can.”
Next, enable them. A lot of people don’t mentor because they don’t think their advice is worth anything. You would be surprised. A lot of smart people don’t mentor because they don’t think people value their advice. Praise them. Let them know you value their advice or an opinion they shared in a meeting.
Set the stage to determine if they are the right mentor. Especially if their experience is relevant to the distance you want to go. And make sure they are secure enough in their position where you don’t have to worry about them giving you filtered information or trying to sabotage you.
Caller Question #2: When do you know the right time to initiate a mentor relationship?
This question is more a matter of art than science. I wish I could say it’s one of those things that you can set and forget it after 6 minutes. But what I will say is base it off the rapport of the relationship.
Most times mentorship happens organically. For example, if your potential mentor is apart of a non-profit and you volunteer at that non-profit, as you volunteer with them in this low-pressure setting you casually tell them what you’re into. If they start to take an interest, that’s when you can say “I’ve noticed, based on a few thing you told me, you’re really good in these areas, and these are some areas where I’m trying to develop. Would it be okay if we set up a lunch where I can ask you some questions?”
You always use this language by the way. Most people will not say “No” to 15 min lunch that includes careful, thought-out, and specific questions. I don’t know why that language works, it just works. So
1. Focus on getting to the first meeting. Don’t focus on the mentorship. Get the first meeting.
2. After the first meeting create a challenge. Say, “Hey, I’m going to be working on this. Is it okay to keep you in the loop”?
Once you’ve done those two steps you’ll see if they are getting excited by your progress. Just say “I’d love it if you could mentor me for this project.” I would definitely try to have a couple of interactions beforehand and I would go with my gut and see how is this person reacting or responding to me.
Caller Question #3: Do you have any tips for re-initiating a past relationship? For example, someone I thought would make a great mentor and I didn’t necessarily follow up in the past. Is there a way to re-initiate that relationship so hopefully that person will move into a mentor role?
Bert: Great question. Before I start on that, Jullien had some great advice at his Innerview workshop earlier this month about re-engaging people. Jullien, correct me if I’m wrong, but it was something like
“Hey, I know we haven’t spoken in awhile, but I’ve been doing a lot of introspection lately and I’m fully committed take the next step with some of the things we talked about months ago. Would it be okay if we set up a quick chat?”
The language you used to re-initiate is somewhere around there. Communicating that I’m ready to take the next step, that’s one part of it. The second part is that people connect on emotion. You might want to send an email that says
“Hey, how are you. I feel so bad that I let so much time pass since we last reconnected. You are one of those people that I love staying in touch with and understanding what’s new in your world. I would love to reconnect some time.”
Gauge it from there. Then you want to include some of the things they taught you. Perhaps they’ve written something recently. You could say,
“Hey, I read your article. It made me think of you when you shared with me the “importance of chasing your passions.” That’s what I’m going through right now. Would you be able to chat about that?
If you frame it with those things in mind, I believe that they will be receptive. The fact that you’re ready to take the next step. The fact that you’re re-initiating your conversation based on something they taught you or something they’ve written or done that’s currently influencing. Or just the deep genuine need or desire to reconnect will increase the likelihood that they respond. If you do all those 3 things you’ll be able to open that bridge back up.
Mentors are a key part of your network up. One powerful relationship up can equal the power of ten relationships with professional peers. While peer can get you to the door, you want to know the person on the other side of the door who has the key.
Great mentors can be any professional including:
- your boss or another leader you respect in your organization
- a seasoned person in your industry at large
- an alumni or professor from your college
- people you hear speak at conferences or on panels
The best way to learn how to manage a mentor is to start off by being a mentor to someone else first. Being a great mentor to someone else, will also teach you how to be a great mentee. If you want someone to give their time and wisdom to you, it will be a more compelling ask if you are already doing the same for someone else.
Jullien “Purpose Finder” Gordon is the author of “The Innerview”, and co-founder of New Higher, a training & technology service that helps organizations recruit high performers. Julliens expertise has been featured on Forbes.com and BlackEnterprise.com. @PurposeFinder
Acknowledged by President Obama for his work as a young leader in America, Bert Gervais a.k.a “The Mentor Guy” is an author, entrepreneur, and mentor evangelist. The book Millennial Leaders calls him one of “The Top Gen Y” leaders in the country. His secret? By the time he was 25 years old he had already formed 25 mentor relationships. As seen on NBC, USA Today, Fox News, and Blackenterprise.com. @BertrandGervais