"J-A-Y, Ye so shy/now he won't even step to his idol to say hi/standing there like a mime and let the chance pass by." —Kanye West, Big Brother
When Kanye West rapped about his life-changing mentor, Jay-Z, he expressed a fear we all have: letting a great mentor leave our sights.
As it turns out, the cost of missing out on mentorship is high. A Sun Microsystems HR study found that employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than people who didn’t have mentors. The Startup Genome Project estimates that startups with helpful mentors are seven times more likely to raise investment money.
How can you land a great mentor? You can start by avoiding these seven mentorship sins, some of which you may already be committing, and you’ll be well on your way.
1. Asking for the Mentor Upfront
Would you ask someone to be your spouse on the first date? Not likely. Being so abrupt is a bad idea on a first date, and you should treat your first encounter with a mentor the same way. There isn't enough time or information in one meeting to predict if a mentorship bond exists between you. Your best bet is to ask for the meeting; not the mentorship. Most people will grant you a 15-minute conversation to answer any specific questions. Here's a line that always works: "I enjoyed our conversation. Should a specific question arise, would it be okay if I reached out for a 15-minute chat to continue the conversation?"
2. Not Establishing Rules for Following Up
You get one chance to make an impression on a potential mentor. Use this time to set up an agreement for your next encounter. Adam Lieb, CEO of Duxter, the "LinkedIn for Gamers," establishes exactly how and when he will follow up right away. "I usually say, 'I'm going to send you an update email in three weeks after I work on the strategy we talked about.'" They could, of course, say “no thanks,” Adam admits. But usually, when you set expectations upfront, if you send a message, they will refer back to the email chain and honor the request.
3. Chasing Names Over Relevant Experience
A participant in my mentoring workshop was adamant she could never find her ideal mentor. So I started by asking her what she wanted to do. She told me that she wanted to start a coffee shop. "And who is your ideal mentor?" I asked. "The CEO of Starbucks." I never wanted a game show buzzer so badly. She had, like so many, made the mistake of chasing a name over experience. The CEO of Starbucks has no idea how to help her; he hasn't opened a local coffee shop in years. A more relevant mentor is the coffee owner one town over, who opened a shop two years ago. Make sure you can explain to your mentor-to-be how their experience relates to what you want to do.
4. Replying "None of Those Times Work"
David Simnick, the founder of SoapBox, a socially conscious soap company with explosive growth, gets approached to be a mentor quite often. His pet peeve is an inflexible mentee. "When you are reaching out to someone with experience and knowledge, who can save you years of mistake and heartache, the most insulting thing you can do is care about your own calendar. Please don't reply 'none of those times work,'" he says. "You are reaching out to me and, as a courtesy, should demonstrate an effort to work around my schedule."
5. Asking Questions You Can Easily Google
What do you think would happen if you asked Larry Page, the founder of Google, how to start a flower business in college? He would probably tell you to Google it, and with good reason: At this level, he is more likely engaged by questions about the future of cloud computing and Google’s telecom play— questions he is uniquely qualified to answer.
6. Making It All About You
The idea that some Dumbledore-like mentor will imbue a young Harry Potter with all the knowledge he needs to succeed is untrue. The truth is, in today's noisy competition for mentors, two-way relationships are the most likely to succeed. One of the mentors who attended my trainings gushed at how much value she got from her mentee, telling us: "What I loved most about Simone is that she always asked me how she could help me, volunteered to help at nonprofit events, and even played the role of my confidant from time-to-time. These experiences and her willingness to give deepened our relationship immensely."
7. Not Expressing Gratitude
Never underestimate the power of gratitude in a mentor relationship. Updated emails tracking your progress and expressing genuine appreciation for your mentors' help goes a long way.
Kanye did get one thing right. “If you admire somebody you should go on head tell ‘em/people never get the flowers while they can still smell ‘em."
Bert Gervais, a.k.a. "The Mentor Guy," is the founder of Success Mentor Education. He is a national bestselling author, speaker and award-winning entrepreneur. You can follow him @BertGervais. He is also a member of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.
For more of the best insights from mentors at the Boomtown accelerator program, access our exclusive video series: Mentor Insights – On Your Schedule.
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