The Science of Creating the Perfect Mentor: A 9-Step Process
“A mentor is someone whose hindsight can become your foresight”
Post Updated 7/3/14
No one ever got anywhere by themselves. Behind every successful person is a supporter – or likely a whole support team – that made it possible.
Live Your Legend, this business, this dream would not exist if it wasn’t for some people who decided to stand squarely in my corner. They started out as my experts and have since become friends and trusted mentors. The same goes for anything I’ve done, be it running an ultramarathon, launching an investment fund or building Live Your Legend. My gratitude goes out to them.
One thing’s for sure. I did not get here on my own nor will I take the next step without them behind it.
Neither will you.
We all need help.
It’s easy to get so caught up in accomplishing this or doing that, that you forget that most things can’t be done on their own, nor should they.
A mentor is nothing more than a glorified friend. Whereas a model is the best example you can find in the world for a particular topic, a mentor is someone you can sit down with, be honest with and who can become a genuine friend. If you’re lucky, they might even be the same person.
For those of us without a mentor, it’s time to find one (or a few). For those of us who already have one, it’s time to give them the appreciation and respect they deserve and get the most out of them!
After all, it is our diehard supporters who connect dreams to reality and make the process a lot more fun.
9 Steps to Creating the Perfect Mentor
1. Start close to home. Your mentor is likely to be someone who’s already close to you. Think of who you count on for advice. Whose opinions do you trust the most? Who do you look up to and hope to be like one day? Whom do you admire? Make a list of these people. I’m grateful to say my parents top this chart.
2. Look at the people around you. If no one jumps out in your existing circle, then look at the relationships that people have around you. Who are their mentors and advisers? See if you can get out to a meal or event with all of you together. Add these people to your list.
3. Tell them the impact they’ve had. Take them out to coffee or a dinner and open your heart a little. Let them know how much you respect what they’ve done and appreciate their advice. People are often too embarrassed to tell someone how they feel. Don’t be one of them. Do you have any idea how amazing it is to know that someone looks up to you? It’s as high as honors come. If you feel that way about someone, tell them. Your connection will be all the stronger as a result. And you’ll give them a relationship to live up to as you seek their advice in the future.
4. Do not directly ask them to be a mentor. There’s a chance this could work, but for the most part it’s a turnoff and is a pretty quick way to get a “no”, as it sounds too formal and involved. Be respectful of their time and how much time your relationship will (or won’t) require. The goal here is to build a casual and mutually valuable relationship over time, not to be a drain. Just send a short note or email letting them know the impact they’ve already had and the progress you’ve made thanks to them, because we all love knowing we’ve made a difference. If this person has given you guidance in the past, let them know that they’ve been an informal mentor for years. Don’t ask anything of them at first, and do whatever you can to be sure they know you won’t be a huge time burden. People want to help, but they’re also busy.
5. Ask for help in small and specific ways over time. This is the crux of the whole process. Slowly start to engage them. The key is asking very short and specific questions that you know they can quickly and easily answer – and that will provide you massive value. Ideally this should happen once you already have built some type of a relationship – although the right simple questions can also break the ice with new contacts, if done properly. For example, maybe you start by asking about a headline you’re considering for an article (if writing is their wheelhouse). They can easily answer that in a couple words or sentences. Do not send them a 2,000 word article and ask for a detailed critique. The more time you ask them to invest and the longer your email, the lower the odds you’ll get a response – now or ever.
Giver’s high is addictive. People love helping others, especially with things they’re good at. You chose the mentors you did because they can help you do the things that matter. Don’t go too long without asking for a little guidance, like every few weeks or couple months at the least. Asking for help strengthens the relationship and gets them more invested in your success. Let them know they’re needed (and appreciated).
6. Constantly reinforce their value. I sometimes send ten handwritten thank you notes in a week. Sometimes they’re for something specific, but just as often as a reminder of how much someone’s relationship means to me. Keep yourself in the front of their mind. Above all else, do it with gratitude.
7. Help. Relationships only work if both people do their part. Even if someone’s your guru, that doesn’t mean you can’t return a favor. Maybe you know someone they should meet or you find a book or article that they’ll love. Buy the book and send it with a note. Better yet, drop it by their house or office. There is a way to help any and everyone. It will not go unnoticed.
8. Weave them into your story. Invite them places. Go on workouts. Do things you both enjoy. They might not have time, but at least they know you’re interested. The more interactions, the more powerful the relationship. The more in-person, the better.
9. Continue the cycle. This stuff never ends. Ask for help, offer help. Don’t expect too much, but don’t settle for nothing either. Reach out, follow up, be useful, have fun and treat them like a friend – because that’s the real goal, anyway. Show you’re taking their advice and making real progress. Slowly deepen the interactions, questions and value you send their way. Then do it again and again.
The process in action
I started this blog six years ago. For the first three years I had no mentors, no peers and no friends in the space. For the first four years, my readership grew by exactly 0%.
Then, after realizing how much I enjoyed helping people find what made them come alive, I decided I wanted to make a career out of it. The blog was the perfect place to start. I cultivated mentors and met dozens of rock stars in the space. One such person was Leo Babauta of ZenHabits. We met over dinner with a group of bloggers. I asked at least 1,200 questions, and a few weeks later we went out for a run in San Francisco. Now we get out about once a week. He’s since become a great friend and one of the best sounding boards a web entrepreneur could dream of. You likely would not be reading this if it wasn’t for his guidance and friendship. And it evolved pretty naturally by simply starting with me genuinely caring about spending time with him, helping how I could, having fun and trading ideas.
Thanks to them, a hobby and passion has become a viable business.
Everyone needs someone in their corner.
Pay it Forward
Establishing your support is only one side of the equation. In order for everyone to have a mentor, you must be willing to become one.
Who can you help? Think of an organization where you’re a more senior and experienced member. Maybe that place is at work, school or a volunteer group. Maybe your children or your children’s friends need some help. Reach out and pay it forward. It’s as important for you to be in someone’s corner as for someone to be in yours. That’s the only way this works. Plus it’s a great way to build confidence and credibility around your expertise.
Where would you be without the backing you have right now? Where could you be if you had a little more of it?
We are not meant to go at it alone. No one successful ever has.
It’s time to enlist your supporters.
For the comments: Who’s in your corner? Who are your biggest mentors? How have they helped? Share one in the comments below. May this be a tribute to them.