How to Find Mentors
Help Them First
Maybe you saw that coming, but yeah, the best way to find mentors is to be an excellent helper first. If you work a part-time job, do everything you can to contribute above and beyond what's expected of you.
- Stay late to clean.
- Offer to design promotional materials.
- Help your boss learn or use social media, or whatever skills you can share.
- Share observations about how to improve things (you deal with customers face to face, after all).
- Ask questions from a sincere desire to learn your boss's challenges and then see if you can find solutions.
These might seem trivial, but most people don't do these simple actions. Doing them shows that you care about the business and doing a good job, and for you, it's not just a paycheck. If that's all you want out of the relationship, that's fine too, but it's probably not going to get you a fervent supporter.
If you don't work for someone else, make friends with business owners in your community or others who are farther along the path than you. Ask them questions and look for ways you can provide help in their endeavors.
This is how I ended up with so many mentors.
- I befriended the owner of a local coworking space and then volunteered there on and off for a year. He has helped me navigate every major challenge I've faced since coming to Boulder.
- I invited the co-owner of a coaching business to speak at an educational event I hosted for my friends, then followed up with her and learned that her partner needed help with social media marketing, which I offered to do. Even though that was a paid exchange, I worked hard to be as helpful as possible and ended up with one of my most valuable mentors, who connected me with another amazing coach with whom I'm working.
- I made a point of having a real conversation with the owner of a local taco place every time I go, invited him to coffee several times, and just was a friendly guy, without explicitly looking to gain anything (and I have yet to find a way to help him besides eating at his place a lot). He has inundated me with brilliant business advice and tons of local connections.
- My bosses at the tutoring company where I work have been some of my biggest supporters, which I attribute to the fact that I have always gone out of my way to improve my teaching skills, taken an active interest in promoting and growing their business, and have directly asked them how I can be better at my job and more valuable to them. I have also started projects within the business and offered to expand their materials.
In all these cases, I found a need and met it, while also doing what I could to demonstrate both appreciation for their valuable time (it is valuable if they are worth knowing, by definition) and genuine liking for them as people.
Respect Their Time
People love to share what they've learned, so don't be shy in asking for advice or help, but make sure you respect their time.
One of the best ways to do that is to set a meeting outside of normal workaday interactions. You can phrase it however you like, but I've found it very effective to ask, "Do you have some time this week to help me with some questions I have about X, Y, and Z?"
This gives them the chance to gather their thoughts and doesn't take away from their busy lives or your work time.
And when you do sit down, don't just wing it. Take 5 or 10 minutes to compose some questions you have and write them down.
I've found that taking notes at meetings with mentors does a couple things:
- It helps me remember what we talked about and what I need to do next
- It gives the impression that you care enough about what they are saying to write it down, encouraging them to do it again some other time
If you're not comfortable writing during a one-on-one, that's fine, but I urge you to give it a try. It has transformed my overall effectiveness.
Be Open to Alternative Ways to Learn
Your mentors might not always be the kind of people who can simply compose their thoughts and deliver them in pithy comments. And maybe they're shy or don't have the patience for sitdowns.
That doesn't mean they don't want to teach you. It just means you must be open to alternative teaching methods.
- Watch how they work and especially how they interact with customers.
- Listen to what they think about in terms of the business.
- Pay attention to what they pay attention to. It's probably the right thing to look after.
- Emulate and imitate where appropriate.
- Look for the ways they correct you.
- Be open to invitations. Maybe they have other ways to guide you other than sit down meetings, like making you aware of growth opportunities.
- Listen to their stories. People usually tell stories for a reason, and that reason isn't always to entertain. You can learn a lot about what someone considers important and valuable from the stories they tell.
Basically, it all boils down to being extremely helpful and being willing to learn. As long as you are those two things, most people will naturally want to help you succeed.