This post has appeared on Quora: What is some advice you can give on finding and attracting mentors?
Ah, mentors. The magic elixir to all your business problems.
All you need to do is find a good mentor, and the mentor will do the rest.
Actually, that’s exactly what you don’t want in a mentor. You want a mentor who is going to make you work harder.
You want a mentor who’s going to push you, cajole you, teach you, and tell you when you are wrong. In short, you want someone who is brutally honest with you.
But how do you find a mentor, and do you really need one?
First, finding a mentor can be remarkably easy.
Let me illustrate with a quick story.
The interviewer was asking me a lot of questions. It was my fifth interview of the day, including meeting with the CEO.
But this interview was different.
He just asked the right questions in the right way. Then he asked his final question.
“What if we’re given an assignment on a Friday afternoon that the CEO says he needs by Monday?”
“Well, I guess we have a long weekend.”
“I think I want to make you an offer.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had found my first mentor.
His name was Ziya, and I became his right hand man at the tender age of 26.
I was a freshly-minted MBA with a strong technical background who was slightly hot-headed (actually really hot-headed!).
Ziya, ten years older than me, was professorial in nature and ever the teacher.
The interesting thing is it never felt like I was being mentored, but I can look back and see that’s exactly what Ziya was doing.
It was a good bargain for both of us. Ziya got someone to help put his theories into practice. And I got someone to help guide me and give me a huge amount of responsibility at a very early age.
Ziya and I worked closely together for the next five years. However, our relationship remained strong the rest of his life. (See Postscript #2.)
My next mentor didn’t appear on the scene for another ten years.
Yet again, I found my mentor during an interview. I was being recruited by a venture capital firm to become an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR).
A little off topic, but being an EIR is really cool and it’s beneficial for both sides.
The VC gets your expertise, knowledge, and first dibs on investing in your new venture.
The entrepreneur gets a built-in investor in their new company. It’s a pretty cool deal if it works out.
Back to my story…
I met Dave at a coffee shop in downtown Palo Alto late one Friday afternoon. I had already met with the other partners of the fund.
We had similar technical and business backgrounds. Dave had already started two companies and is a little older than me.
We hit it off instantly.
I didn’t know that Dave was designated to be my mentor/protector at the time, but that’s what he became.
Again, we learned (and still learn) from each other. However, I’ve learned a lot more from Dave than Dave has learned from me.
Dave helped me successfully navigate the fundraising process (the VC fund I was working with didn’t invest, but that’s another story). Then he became consigliore and advisor throughout the life of my company.
In fact, Dave is still a close advisor and friend.
Finding a good mentor can be as easy as finding a good boss.
That’s one of the first places you should look for a mentor. But there are other easy places. Let’s list some:
- Your parents
- Your teachers or professors
- Your coach
- Your network
Add in your boss and you have twelve ways to find a mentor. I am certain there are many more.
Do you really need a mentor?
Consider this: We all need help and guidance from time to time. Take a look at this list of accomplished people and their mentors:
I would bet each of these people owes a large part of their success to their mentors.
Isn’t it interesting how many of the people who’ve been mentored have given back and mentored the next generation?
And isn’t it interesting how there are examples of mentoring going back thousands of years?
Now its time to answer the most important question:
What do you want from your mentor?
More importantly, what do you need from your mentor?
- A great mentor is someone you can tell anything to, and…
- A great mentor has experience you don’t yet have, and most importantly…
- A great mentor tells you what don’t want to hear.
The highest level of mentorship is deeply personal.
There’s no getting around it. You can learn a lot from books, websites, and other impersonal sources. However, the highest level of mentorship is one-on-one.
But you’re afraid to reach out to someone. That’s understandable.
Let me give you two simple tips for how to reach out to a potential mentor:
- You have to give to get. In other words, the relationship has to have some semblance of balance to work.
- Be sincere. Speak from the heart and be honest about your needs and wants. Don’t offer empty praise that your prospective mentor will see through.
I’ll give you an example of how to not to get a mentor. I received the following message from someone:
“I am a startup CEO and many times, I require mentoring and suggestions. I wanted to know you personally so maybe, I could learn a lot of things from you. Please let me know!”
The problem with this message is it is all about the mentee. There has to be something in it for the mentor.
And it doesn’t have to be money!
Remember, you are going to get a lot more out of the relationship than any money or equity the mentor gets.
Let’s compare the first invitation to a second invitation I received:
“Hi Brett – I’m looking for help with my newly minted company called xxxx- we do xyz from around the world and now looking at building something bigger than our major competitor. Looking at doing the $0 – $100M. Is this something you can help advise or coach me with?”
There are a couple reasons offer number two is more compelling:
- The tone of the “ask” is different. “I’m looking for help” isn’t needy. “I require mentoring and suggestions” is very needy and whiny. No one wants to work with a whiner.
- There is an implied benefit to the mentor. I potentially receive equity and income from advising and coaching.
The first offer is all about the mentee with no benefit for the mentor.
Yes, mentors want to help people.
Yes, mentors want to pass on their knowledge.
But remember that mentors are very busy. It can’t be all give, give, and give.
Have a compelling reason for help, look in the right places and you are on your way to being personally mentored. In the meantime, there are plenty of indirect mentors to help you along your journey.
Brett Fox is an accomplished high-tech executive with experience as a CEO, turnaround specialist, and executive coach. He has built several businesses from $0 to >$100M and has raised over $100M in venture capital and private equity. You can learn more by going to www.brettjfox.com, where this piece originally ran. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.