Having a hard time finding a mentor? Here’s an idea: Stop doing that, and focus on attracting one. There’s a difference. When you want to make deep, long-lasting professional connections, it isn’t always that effective to outright ask for help. Sure, some people are glad to offer a word of advice now and then, but really gaining somebody’s long-term support means focusing less on what they can do for you and more on what you can do for them. Here’s how that principle applies to the tricky art of mentorship.
How Not To Find A Mentor
As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean In, “The strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides. ” Instead, of telling young people, “‘Get a mentor and you will excel’,” she wrote, “we need to tell them, ‘Excel and you will get a mentor.'”
Obviously, it isn’t always quite that simple, especially for women and people of color, whose performance isn’t always immediately recognized. Still, Sandberg’s emphasis on putting mentorship on the far end of the equation, rather than at the front of it, generally makes sense. If it really is a relationship game, and those relationships grow out of the work you do, then you probably shouldn’t even use the word “mentor.”
Mentorship often implies a one-way transfer of knowledge–someone who’s experienced just giving away their hard-earned wisdom for nothing. You already know that relationships don’t work like that. In fact, relationships are a two-way street where both parties are equally invested in the partnership. So don’t go around asking people to be your mentor. You get a mentor by being the kind of person someone would want to mentor. If you show people you’re excelling in your career by working hard, being action-oriented, and producing phenomenal results, then chances are they will want to mentor you without you having to make a direct request.
Prove Yourself Before You Ask For Help
One young woman recently reached out to ask me to become her mentor. The approach she took? Giving me a laundry list of things she wanted me to do–like have monthly dinners with her, let her shadow me while I work, and introduce her to influencers in my network. Originally, I assumed she was interested in one of my programs (after all, I coach people for a living). When I asked her to clarify, she responded, “Oh no, I just want to be mentored by you.”
Now, I’m sure this woman had the best intentions, but that didn’t prevent me from politely declining. Contrast her approach with a programmer I met who used to work a boring $7-an-hour job and wanted to start a business of his own. After investing in several online business courses, he ended up working for an instructor whose coursework I’d previously taken as well.
One day I posted for help in one of the instructor’s Facebook groups–I was launching a new program and wanted someone to review some copy. Most people gave me a sentence or two of feedback, but the programmer chimed in and went above and beyond. He created a new Google doc with my copy, made extensive notes, and even rewrote whole sections. He made my writing substantially better–and also disproved the myth that people early in their careers can’t help those who are further along in their own.
Now, that caught my attention. We immediately became friends, and an informal mentorship relationship emerged organically. From time to time, I’d offer him advice. He’d immediately implement it, then check back in with me to share his progress. It quickly became apparent that if I put a little bit of effort into him, he’d give so much back. Later on, he ended up becoming a client of mine by signing up for my courses (so don’t let anyone tell you that mentoring somebody is pure charity–good mentors always get something out of it, too!).
The thing is, we never actually formalized our mentor-mentee relationship, but because we’d built a strong working relationship first, based on mutual give and take, it ended up evolving that way without the need for any big, awkward “asks.”
It’s sometimes crucial in your career to ask for help, but there will always be situations where you won’t get the help you need just by requesting it. Focus on the things you can do and building relationships that help others succeed, and mentors will come knocking on your door before you know it.
Selena Soo is a publicity and marketing strategist for visionary entrepreneurs, experts, and authors who want to reach millions with their message.