Truth: one of the most valuable resources you can tap is someone else’s experience. Seriously. Learning from someone who has experience in something you’re pursuing is like a real-life “Pass Go, Collect $200” situation. Sure, you can’t buy the whole Monopoly board with 200 bones, that still requires some hustle on your part, but you get a jumpstart toward planting your little green house on Illinois Avenue (which, fun fact, is the most valuable property on the Monopoly board. Not most expensive, but most likely to bring you that cash money). Learning from someone else’s mistakes or successes helps to expand your thinking and create a roadmap of the highways, one-way streets, and dead ends you’re likely to come across in your pursuit.
Good mentorship gives a unique perspective rooted in the experience and influence of someone who has been there, done that. It can help to provide clarity and tactical guidance when you’re in growth mode. Some of the people I value most are those who have provided mentorship to me, and it’s an investment I don’t take lightly. If you’ve never considered mentorship, this is my nudge for you to get you some – if you are already sold on working with a mentor but aren’t sure how to “get” one, read on.
Realistically, while most of us see the value in mentorship, it’s probably true that most of us don’t have a line of qualified, knowledgable, inspiring people lined up at our door begging to be our mentors. More likely, you may know of really awesome, impressive people who are doing what you want to do or have walked through something you’re going through and you want to learn from them, but waltzing up to your CMO’s office and asking her if you can “pick her brain” is either terrifying or just not an option. Whether you’re in that boat or you don’t even know someone yet who you’d want to be mentored by, I have a few tips to get you started.
First, you should seek mentorship from someone who is experienced in the thing you want to grow in. You wouldn’t take an engineer’s advice on how to perform heart surgery, so be sure you’re not looking for guidance in a personal or business sense from someone who can’t speak to it from experience. Second, and please read this twice, do not just reach out to your proposed mentor and ask if you can “buy her a cup of coffee and pick her brain.” Just don’t do it. She can buy her own coffee. Instead, once you’ve identified someone who could be a valuable resource to you, do some research on her and get a feel for any advice she’s already made available on the topic you’re interested in. Once you are ready to reach out, you should make your ask specific and concise. If she’s built the type of business you want to build, don’t just ask for her general advice – be specific to one topic. If you think her career is interesting and you want to emulate it, hone in on a trend or experience you’d like to learn from.
If you genuinely don’t know or know of anyone to mentor you right now, not to fear! There are tons of ways to receive mentorship, outside of a 1:1 mentor-mentee relationship. I’ve listed some ideas below.
5 ways to get the most out of mentorship
Read more. Books written by the people you want to emulate and learn from are an invaluable peek into their most useful pieces of guidance. I think sometimes we can feel like reading someone’s book doesn’t actually “count” as mentorship because it doesn’t feel personalized, but the reality is there are thousands of different resources that cover thousands of different topics with thousands of different valuable perspectives. The great thing with books is that the insights resonate with people in various ways and times because of where the reader is at personally. I’ve re-read books before and taken something completely different from the experience the second time around. It is personal.
Listen to/watch interviews of the people you want to learn from. I love to actually hear people’s voices and get a feel for what they’re like IRL, so podcasts and YouTube videos are such a helpful way for me to learn from people who I think have something important to share. This is also a great opportunity to learn many different perspectives on a specific topic because you can topic-surf the ol’ interweb for a myriad of different angles. I love to hear a number of different takes on the same concept so I can play around with what sits best with me.
Join a group. You’d be surprised at how many people are directly available to you to act as mentors, thought leaders, and sounding boards for your growth and development. There are hundreds of groups – both locally and online – of people seeking and providing knowledge on areas that can benefit you. A quick Google search can expose all kinds of different MeetUps, networks, and events that you can tap into and many individual leaders have some kind of online presence or group that is available online. Sometimes these are in the shape of an insightful blog or free Facebook group and others are paid seminars or coaching sessions. Bonus tip: see if your company will expense registration costs for paid forums.
Be Prepared. If you are able to nail down some 1:1 time with a mentor, do the work beforehand to prepare. In a person-to-person situation, they’re offering extreme value in their time and experience – honor that time with your preparation and openness. While a mentor can help you fill in the blanks based on his/her own expertise, you shouldn’t rely on them to “write the whole chapter”, so to speak. Spend twice as much time preparing for the meeting as the time you’ll actually have with your mentor to ensure you’re coming with clear questions, clear objectives, and a firm outline for what you hope to achieve. This communicates respect for the investment he/she is making in you and puts you in a position to get as much from their guidance as possible.
Own your actions. Regardless of whether you’re receiving mentorship through anonymity or 1:1, you own the actions. What you learn is only as valuable as your willingness to implement it. Mentorship can give you tools and help you strategize an action plan, but ultimately your success or failure rests squarely on your commitment to doing the work and applying what you’ve learned. Hold yourself accountable to taking initiative with the guidance you’ve received. Your mentor can help you set a reasonable action plan and check-in with your progress at each subsequent session.
My recommendation is to try to nail down some kind of 1:1 mentorship at least once per quarter, but of course take advantaged of content available to you more often.
If you have any additional comments or questions, drop them in the comments below!