The Foolproof Tactic to Getting a Mentor

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Ask any leader about the ingredients needed for success and except for a few narcissistic fools, they will all include good mentors as part of the recipe. If you meet a leader who says they didn't have or need any mentors, you should run away as fast as you can.

It seems like at almost every training or conference I attend these days, the topic of mentoring comes up. Specifically, there is a lot of interest and consternation around how to get a mentor, considering a lot of the best mentors are very busy and are probably already mentoring several people.

An unfortunate reality of life is when we have a lot of uncertainty about how to go about something, we tend to put it off and in the end, do nothing about it. Also, no one like rejection so asking someone you admire to be your mentor only to be told “No,” can be one of those confidence-shattering moments. Don’t break into a cold-sweat just yet, though, because there is a foolproof tactic to getting a mentor.

Instead of rolling up on your target mentor like an army, with your tanks and infantry and air support and dropping the big bomb of a question, “Will you be my mentor?” go for a lower-key approach.

I like to call this Guerilla mentoring. To get good mentoring, you don’t need a contract written in blood and a life-long relationship. Sometimes, even just a short conversation for them can be a game-changer for you. So with that in mind, take the pressure off. Don’t even mention the world “mentor.” Instead, ask a question that they can answer simply, but will make a world of difference for you. You can choose your own questions, but here are a few examples to get you started.

What would you say are some of the key decisions you made in your career?

What do you know now that you wished you known when you were my age?

What book could you recommend that had a big impact on your leadership?

If these questions seem familiar it may be because they were adapted from Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life, by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller.

So the next time you have you’re eye on a mentor, fear not. Ask them a simple question and get much needed mentoring without all the awkwardness of asking someone to prom. Do this enough times and surprise, you will have a mentor without having ever formally asked for them to be your mentor. Just do it. Guerilla style.

Let me know how it goes in the comments below!

Connect to Your Own Wisdom

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I love it when a junior person asks me for career advice. It’s not because it makes me feel special or because I enjoy mentoring (though both are true). It’s because it helps remind me of fundamental lessons that I might otherwise forget.

As we gain more experience and experience more success, there is an nefarious trap. We run the risk of becoming arrogant and in the process forgetting the fundamental lessons we learned along the way. We have the scars so best to keep the hard-earned wisdom.

Recently, a connection asked me for advice on interviewing:

Hi Joe,

What values and traits do you find management and hiring professionals within your firm look for most in new associate candidates?

Regards,

J

It would have been a lot easier to just shoot back a glib, stock answer (drive, ethics, people skills, etc.). Instead, I stopped for a moment and really thought about it. I was surprised by my answer and thankful that the question had given me the opportunity to reflect on and reaffirm the fundamental lesson.

Great question. I've interviewed a ton over the years and failed to get the job many times so I'm sharing from my experience. In hindsight I look at this question very differently. One can't actually answer it in a helpful way because the lever you are looking for is something else entirely. Instead, I'd ask what skills do you need and what preparation should you do to strongly connect with each interviewer in front of you? And once you are connected, how can you lead them to believe (honestly) that hiring you will be the best outcome for them, their group, and the organization? They are the protagonist, not you. That's what gives you the best chance.

When interviewing, if you treat the interviewer as the protaganist and communicate how you will help them succeed, you greatly increase your chances. Think negotiation, not performance.

If you have any stories about when teaching someone else benefited you, I’d love to hear about it!

Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.

The Statement that Put Me Away: How to Break Out of Your Career Prison

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I have a confession to make.

For a while, I was making one of my female coworkers uncomfortable. This was someone who was junior to me and looked up to me as a mentor. The first time I made my half-joking statement, I could tell she wasn't sure how to take it. I said it a second time and got the same awkward response. You might be wondering why I would continue on in this manner. Well, if the third time's a charm I tried to clarify things by explaining why I said what I did and why I was doing it.

Here's what I had been saying. Or something to that effect.

"Keep doing what you are doing. One of these days I may very well be working for you and that would be totally cool. I'm serious."

Cue uneasy shifting in seat, awkward silence and eventually a dubious "Yeah, right!"

And here's my explanation, after which I stopped saying this.

"I know you don't feel comfortable when I say this so I'll stop. Let me explain the reason why I've been saying it. We all have long careers and people move up and down on their own timetable. I think you have tremendous potential and I don't want you to hold yourself back by thinking that you have to wait your turn or that whoever is ahead of you today will always deserve to be ahead of you tomorrow. Forget that! You have to be your best, whatever that is and don't let any false or unnecessary sense of loyalty, hierarchy or timing stop you or slow you down."

Apologies for the false advertising. It wasn't exactly a #MeToo creating moment. However, as much as I was saying it for her benefit, I think it was a lesson for me as well. There are many times I catch myself thinking, I can never do that as well as X, Y, or Z. Or so and so's forgotten more about widgets than I will ever know. While both of these may very well be true, the problem has more to do with my attitude than the veracity of the statements. No disrespect to any of the great bosses and mentors I've had along the way, but if I live my life believing that I should or will always be one floor below them, then I'm clipping my own wings.

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Don't clip your own wings!

Give respect where respect is due, put in your time, and don't get cocky, but know and be okay with the possibility that one day you may soar above your previous teachers and leaders. And remember, anyone who tries to artificially slow down your ascent doesn't deserve to be on your team.

Keep moving forward and you will reach your summit.

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Have you ever caught yourself holding yourself back? Did a shift in your perspective on success ever lead to significant results? If you have a story, success or otherwise, about clipping your own wings, I'd love to hear about it.      
Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.