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To find a mentor, think like a mentor

5 tips on how to find a mentor and nurture a relationship that could change your career.

To find a mentor, think like a mentor
[Photo: STILLFX/iStock]

Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, offers candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. How do you find a mentor?

-Aspiring executive at a Fortune 100 company

Dear Aspiring,

It’s easy enough to find a mentor. The more challenging part is becoming the kind of person someone wants to mentor. For that, you need to be coachable, and you need to inspire people to want to help you. You need to be a learner—someone who wants to get different points of view and grow. That makes the mentor’s job enjoyable rather than painful.

Growing up I played a lot of sports. I wasn’t destined to become a pro. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was the shortest and slowest lineman on the Forrest Hill high school football team. Still, I was named “lineman of the year.” Why? The coach said I was the most coachable kid he ever had. What made me so coachable? I had enthusiasm for the game and wanted to learn to be better. I was open to hearing the good and bad feedback and I listened and adapted. That made people willing to give me advice.

And, I can tell you, advice is a gift.

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Before you go looking for someone to save you, save yourself first. Make sure you are in the right frame of mind to seek help and receive it. It is up to you to decide what you do with what you learn. Always listen, process it, consider a mentor’s advice, but if it doesn’t fit with your value system and within the scope of what you want to do, reject it. As always, the key ingredients in growing in one’s career (and life) relies on having an open mind and wanting to be continually challenged and always excited about learning.

Back to your question about where to find a mentor, please consider that it’s not about finding a mentor—one mentor—who is your everything. And, it’s not as simple as going around and asking, “Are you my mentor,” like that little bird in the children’s book. Inspiration and insights come from everywhere.

The best mentoring relationships don’t come from one place, like your office, but rather come from a variety of sources so that you can have not one mentor but rather network of advisors. With that, you gain access to the best and brightest minds that have the most experience specifically relevant to you and your dreams. This external board of advisers can offer insight, direction, and introductions. This can make a tremendous impact on your career and your life.

So, how do you find your team of mentors? I’ve included some ideas below.

  • Actively search for the best in your industry.

Who does your current job—or the job you want—well? Read industry publications and websites and blogs to identify the best people in your field. Search for them online. Find them on LinkedIn. What is their magic? Identify who they are, what they’ve accomplished, and what you can learn from them.

  • Seek advice from the best people.

People love to mentor, help, and coach. Ask your mentors what success looks like to them. Ask them what they think has made them successful. Ask them to share their story.

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  • Understand you can be mentored by someone you never meet.

I’ve learned so much from people whom I never met. I have been guided by Stephen Covey’s advice countless times and yet I never met him, I just knew him from his books. You can find insights in every experience and every interaction if you have your eyes open to that.

  • Accept whatever help is available from your company and solicit help from outside your company.

Don’t expect help to come only from inside your company. I felt so strongly about the need for people to be able to access mentors that I cofounded a company called Everwise, which uses data and software and people to help match mentors and protégés.

  • Bring value to the network.

Ask what you can do to help your mentors. You may have assets they need. Don’t be a pest, but do send a relevant article or a post they might find interesting, or promote their work to your network. Social media tools make this easier than ever.

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