Mentoring: How to find or become a mentor
As your career grows, its natural to want to learn from people who are older, more experience or more successful than you are. As you become more successful, it also becomes natural to want to pay that experience forward to younger creatives. But how to do approach someone who you want to learn from, how do you know what type of mentor you should be and how do both sides do it successfully? In this episode we will look at how to find or become a mentor, start a productive conversation and set both sides of the mentor / mentee relationship up for success.
Today we are going to talk about mentoring. I get emails every week from people asking for me to be their mentor, asking for advice, asking to have a cup of coffee and much more. In this episode I want to look at both sides of the mentoring.
FINDING A MENTOR
– Its natural to want to learn from people who are older, more experience or more successful than you are. I owe a huge part of my success to people who were willing to give me advice, teach me and mentor me. But for starters, how you approach people who you want advice or mentoring from can make all the difference.
WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR IN A POTENTIAL MENTOR?
– The most basic thing is look for a willingness to share skills, knowledge, and expertise.
– Look for someone who has a positive attitude and acts as a positive role model.
– Look for someone who has the experience or achievements you would like to also have.
– But also make sure it is complimentary but not exactly the same because you want someone who can push you into new things.
– Make sure the potential mentors experience is real and not someone who sounds good but doesn’t really know what they are talking about. You can find this out by seeing the work they have done, things they have written or speeches they have given.
– Also look to see or ask if they have been a mentor before. Was it successful and could you talk to that person?
– Don’t underestimate the importance of these vetting steps.
COMMON PROBLEMS WHEN CONTACTING A POTENTIAL MENTOR
NO CLEAR ASK
– This happens when people write something like “tell me how you became successful”
– The problem here is there is no clear ask here
– Plus its also compounded by the fact that what worked for me and my life isn’t going to work for you because your life is different
– Start with something smaller that makes it easy to answer and start the conversation
ASK IS TOO LARGE
– This happens when people write something like “tell me how to become a creative director” or the email is a list a multiple in-depth questions
– The problem here is that ask is too large to answer easily
– Plus no email, no matter how well written, is going to be able to tell you how to do something like that
– Here again, start with something smaller that makes it easy to answer and start the conversation
– You don’t need to get all the information you want in one shot
FEELS LIKE A SELL / PITCH
– This happens when people write something like “Would like to network about..” or “Can we do a quick call?”
– The problem here is if you want to sell me something then tell me its merits and where I can find out more
– Don’t try and get one over on me and do anything to get on the phone
– I will never buy a product that is sold to me that way. I want to do business with people who are honest.
– This happens when the person asking for advice or mentoring gets aggressive or too persistent with their communications
– Of course its fine to ask for advice or mentoring but the problem here is you need to remember that people give advice and mentor in their free time
– And how much free time they have will fluctuate some times I am traveling, buried at work, on vacation or other things that delay my response
– Writing to me saying something like ‘I owe you an answer’ isn’t the way to get it
– We want to help people who are humble, respectful and appreciative.
– This happens when people write something like “I love your work, your house, your wife Whitney and two dogs.”
– The problem here is that its good to do research but don’t make a creepy first impression
– Think about what it would be like if someone sent you that email. You would think twice about if you should write that person back – for a few reasons.
ASKING FOR VALUABLE INFORMATION FOR FREE
– This happens when you ask someone to give you anything that you have to pay for under normal circumstances
– This could be asking to do a design, give a strategy, suggest a brand positioning, etc.
– If you are going to ask for this kind of advice then you need to be prepared for people to come back and say they will give it to you for a fee because there is a difference between offering to help you grow in your career and doing work for free.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
Start by getting clear on the answers to 3 questions
– 1. What are you looking for mentoring on?
– 2. What goals can a mentor help you achieve?
– 3. How much time are you willing to commit?
– If you aren’t clear on those, you’ll be wasting your sources’ time – and your own.
BEING A MENTOR
If your first motivation for mentoring is thinking about what you can get out of it, then you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons. In my experience the best reason to mentor is to encourage, support, and give back to the community. I look at it as an extension of my work on creative leadership.
INDIVIDUAL VS. SCALE
– Before you head down the road to be a mentor take the time to think about the scale of the impact you want to have
– I see too many people start by helping one person only realizing they want to effect people at scale and visa versa
– You owe the people you help your best effort so be sure before you start
WAYS TO ENGAGE WITH PEOPLE
– If you want to be a mentor then it may be tempting to say yes to everyone
– Evaluate whether this person and what they are looking for seems like a good fit for a fulfilling mentee/mentor relationship
You can have different levels of engagement
– Email: If the person doesn’t seem like a good fit or you don’t have time to take on more people you can still offer to help. You can answer a few questions over email to try to help them out. This is good for a few interactions but won’t be a good long term model
– Call/Meeting: If the person does seem like a good fit but you can’t commit to a mentor relationship you can use this middle step. To be honest, for me these are really rare.
– Full engagement: For people who are a good fit and you have the time to work with them then engage in a mentor relationship.
SETTING YOURSELVES UP FOR SUCCESS
3 QUALITIES OF GOOD MENTOR AND MENTEE RELATIONSHIPS
Be clear on both of your strengths and weaknesses – and spend some time to think about it if you don’t know. Its important to both sides and you will only be successful if you can define what you want and what you can give. But also self-awareness for things outside of the mentor / mentee relationship. Like if you are the mentee think about things like not making your boss feel threatened. But also honest with them about how to improve, what you think and a lot of other potentially hard conversations
Put yourself in the other persons shoes and be thankful for the time both sides are investing
This is being honest with yourself about what you can do and honest with them about your opinions. This is the hardest one of all because you are going to get busy, work will rise up, life will step in and you have to be honest about what you can do with them.
5 WAYS TO SET YOURSELVES UP FOR SUCCESS
– Scope & constraints: what’s in/what’s out and when; what they are looking for vs not looking for, what you are able to offer and not.
– Goals & problems: define what they hope to gain from mentorship
– Set a cadence: frequency of mentorship. This may change but it is good to set a rhythm
– Have a shared online space: Use a platform like Evernote or Google Drive to create a shared folder where you can both share notes, inspiration, and projects
– Define success: How will they know they are getting want/need from the relationship?
– Evolve: Reevaluate your process and what is working on a regular basis. Don’t be a slave to a process that isn’t working.
FOR EACH MEETING
– Set an agenda: Write down a list of questions you want to discuss so that your mentor can review them beforehand
– Set a meeting length: so are sure you can get everything done in the time window
– Figure out next steps: Spend the last few minutes of each conversation talking about action items and next steps.
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