A Better Way to Approach Potential Mentors
As we search for the insight, clarity, and perspective we aren’t getting from our current leaders and colleagues, the best among us seek out seasoned, successful, and experienced people who might serve unofficially as our mentors. In many instances, these prospective mentors barely know us. Some have retired or moved on to other organizations. Some may be leaders we reported to earlier in our careers who now sit in very senior roles.
The ideal mentor is someone wise, unconnected to our daily work, and who is willing to take the time to listen to our problems and understand our issues and conundrums. As they are not in a position of direct influence, mentors can be brutally candid, offering unfiltered guidance and insight as to what they would do if they were in our shoes. Anyone who has ever had someone like this in their court understands the power of mentorship.
Asking someone to serve as a mentor is a big ask, and we often frame the request in terms of asking for help. When a mentor seems agreeable to lending a hand, we commonly ask if we can “pick their brain” and explore questions about the choices we face and the way they have seen others handle them. Luckily for us, good people like to help other good people, and so they often comply.
The next time you ask a prospective mentor to adopt you, think about offering help instead of asking for it. While potential mentors feel complimented that you would seek their knowledge and wisdom, they are even more flattered when you take an active interest in what they do.
To increase the odds of having those you approach take an active role in your journey, consider offering a hand to get involved in their work. Tell them something like this: “I admire what you do. How can I help?” You will find that people with the power to help others professionally respond to your desire to help them…with a passion to help you.
The doors to insight open first to those who are willing to learn and help those with more experience. When we express a desire to first help the mentor, they respond by getting more deeply engaged with the issues that challenge us. That’s helpful advice.