How To Really Get A Mentor

One of the talks I had in Thailand with a couple young entrepreneurs was on finding a mentor. When the talk wrapped up I lamented having not recorded it as I could just send that audio to people who ask me to mentor them.

I’ve been thinking about writing about this topic for a long time so after that conversation and then getting a mentorship request from a different young entrepreneur this morning I’ve decided to jot down some thoughts.

So here is a quick summary of what I said.

* I’ve turned down everyone who has ever asked me to mentor them.

* I almost always say yes to a young entrepreneur who wants chat with me unless that person obviously won’t take action after the chat.

* Mentorship is time-consuming and a giant responsibility. Molding a life is big deal. Don’t underestimate the pressure you’re putting on a person when you ask.

* Anyone who would make a good mentor will say no to being asked to be a mentor. Anyone who would make a good mentor will say yes to giving you one call or a coffee shop chat.

* Don’t just pick anyone to mentor you. Make sure they are the kind of person you want to be like, or have the kind of experience you think you need to achieve your big future goals. The best mentor will be someone who is or has done what you want to do, or is an amazing researcher who has studied and dissected the thing you want to do — both will give you excellent insights and guidance.

* Know what your potential mentor needs and wants. I’ve never had anyone, and I do mean anyone, who ever asked to be mentored come to me with a win/win proposition. It has always been their needs and wants. A few have tossed out “I’ll do whatever you need done in exchange” which puts the mentor in an awkward position of figuring out how to give you an unpaid job and then to manage you. This isn’t appealing at all. It actually sounds like a lot of work — because it is.

* If you know the wants and needs of your prospective mentor then bring to that mentor a plan. Use Ramit Sethi’s Briefcase Technique to show that you understand what is important to the mentor, you can think on your own, and most importantly, you take action.

Even then a good mentor will thank you for your ideas and initiative and then say no. This is a test and most people fail it. Most will say, “sorry to have bothered you” and then give up. You have to be persistent. It might even take you a year or two before that person finally says yes. But the growth you’ll go through trying to get to that yes will be valuable mentoring.

* Start softly. My very good friend, and sometimes business partner, Sam Woods, applied for my first internship position at Foolish. I turned him down. He stayed in touch. He asked me short, direct questions that I could answer quickly. Then he took action on my advice and then let me know the results.

I asked him to get on Skype to chat. I offered to mentor him. He had proven to me that he wouldn’t waste my time or the valuable knowledge and experience I could share with him. Nothing pisses off a mentor than giving advice to someone who then wastes it.

* Sometimes you have to pay for access. I wrote a $15,000 check to join a coaching program, not because the program was designed to help me (it wasn’t), but I did it show a mentor how serious I was. Even then I had to provide value to him and we genuinely became friends afterwards.

Paying for access may mean flying to where your prospective mentor is and paying for a half day of their time. It may mean helping them raise money for their favorite charity or something else important to them. Show a prospective mentor that you’re truly serious.

* The advice I gave to one of the young entrepreneurs that day in the cafe was:

  • Learn all he could about his prospective mentor.
  • Start softly and offer him value.
  • Do not ask for anything in return.
  • Don’t expect anything in return.
  • Be open about your motives: I’m doing this because in the process of helping you I’ll end up learning the skills and insights needed to become like you.
  • Be persistent. That mentor, if any good, should test your resolve. He’ll say no. He’ll give you shit jobs to do. He’ll see just how serious you are.

What you get from this process of trying to be of value to a mentor is growth. You’ll become more capable and have more capacity just from the act of trying to be of value to someone much higher up the ladder than you.

When I was a rock climber, every time I got to a stage in climbing where I couldn’t get to the next level I would climb with climbers much better than myself. Their advice was okay and useful, but the act and determination to keep up with them is what helped me grow the most as a climber. I knew that I didn’t have to be as good as them for them to let me tag along, but if I didn’t give it my all they wouldn’t waste their time with me.

This is a quick ramble about finding a mentor that I hope is useful to you young entrepreneurs.

Feel free to hit me with your questions. Though I may still say no. 🙂

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