This weekend I was honored to be a volunteer at the annual “Discoverabilities” conference created for and in service to adults with intellectual disabilities in my city. I was deeply humbled by the networking, camaraderie and compassion that these adults shared with one another.
This wonderful event reminded me of one of my absolute favorite books by Harvey Mackay: Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty. I believe we often times overlook opportunities to help one another when all we need to do is ask the people in our networks—even if we do not know these people personally.
Many of my clients—even those with decades of successful business experience—cringe at the thought of asking another person for mentorship. My philosophy is that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by asking another for help.
Here is an easy four-step approach that you can use immediately.
- Identify six individuals to approach.You know your business and you know your profession. Choose someone who has the expertise and insight you are seeking. Not every person you approach will be willing to be your mentor and this will not be a personal thing. It will be a matter of timing and scheduling. By identifying a handful of potential mentors, you will be more apt to find one or two firm commitments. Having more than one mentor at a time is a bonus.
- Approach the targeted individuals with a letter.I like to choose the old-fashioned written letter sent through the post. Let him or her know that you are seeking a mentor and that you are looking for a six-month commitment—one hour per month.
- Disarm any concern that you want anything more than information, advice and insight.That is, let your benefactor know that you are not going to ask for a job or anything related to a job. You also pledge to respect and honor confidentiality. Offer to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Let him or her know that you consider this a private arrangement and you will not disclose the relationship (unless you agree otherwise).
- Repeat this process every six months for the rest of your career.
In no time at all, you will have built a rich network. Remember to always be in service to your mentors. If, for example, you can help your mentor professionally, offer to do so. Reciprocation will be appreciated and even if your assistance is not required, the gesture will be noticed.
Identify individuals who are able to provide you with information and insight that will help your career. For example, if you are targeting an outside board seat for a public company, you may want to target individuals who have served on public boards. These individuals will be able to help you create a personal recruitment plan so that you become attractive to a public board. They will help you understand the process of landing a board seat (or whatever your goal happens to be) and of the landmines you will need to navigate once you land a board seat.
Of course each one of your mentors will have a unique perspective and this is where the value lies. By learning from the experiences of others who are in a position you aspire to, you will be able to avoid some of the pitfalls they have experienced. Hindsight is truly 20/20 vision and if you can learn from the trials of others, you save valuable time and effort in your own journey to success.
It may feel overly formal to write a letter outlining your goals for the relationship and even offering to sign an NDA. But think about the risk that someone is taking by meeting with a complete stranger. It will take some time naturally to build trust in this relationship, but by offering up front to (1) not ask for anything (like a job for example) and (2) to sign an NDA, it demonstrates your sensitivity and integrity.
Good luck with your mentorship plan. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the results of your campaign and land your next opportunity in lightning speed.
Bonus tip: Offer to pay for your mentor’s lunch or coffee. Always.
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