How Countless Leaders Achieve Mammoth Success with Mentors and How You Can Too

Mentors are one of the biggest accelerators to success.  So much so that Donald Perkins, Chairman and CEO of the Jewel Companies said, “Everyone who succeeds has had a mentor or mentors.”  While I’m sure there are some that succeed without mentors, there is no denying that having a mentor can provide a huge boost to your career.

Many leaders owe a good portion of their success to mentors.  Bill Gates had Warren Buffet, Larry Page had Eric Schmidt, and Oprah had Maya Angelou to name a few.  One study found that 80% of CEOs surveyed had received some form of mentorship.         

Researchers have also found that employees who receive mentoring:

  • Are more satisfied in their jobs
  • Are more committed
  • Obtain greater compensation
  • And receive more promotions

In my own career I’ve used mentors to gain career advice, learn best practices, brainstorm solutions, and grow my network.

When I was a leader in IT I used a mentor and executive coach to become a stronger leader, and more self-aware.

When I was a leader in Product Marketing, I found a mentor who had successfully launched several cutting-edge technologies.  His years of experience allowed me to learn from both his successes and his failures.  I then applied those insights to a new product I was launching that went on to sell millions of units.

Having mentors like these throughout my career allowed me to dramatically speed my learning, distill their years of experience into hours, and helped me see new possibilities.

“Don’t Ask for a Mentor, Make a Mentor”

With mentors having such a big impact you might think a large portion of people would have them. 

Olivet Nazarene University set out to better understand this.  They surveyed 3,000 people and found that 76% thought mentors were important, but only 37% had one! 

For those with mentors they found 61% gained their mentor with the relationship developing naturally, 25% had their mentor offer to be a mentor, and only 14% had asked the person to be their mentor.

So how can you become one of the 37% that have a mentor?  The key is not to ask for a mentor, but to make a mentor.

The best part is that making a mentor is easy, and you don’t have to ask that awkward question, “Will you be my mentor?”  Here are five simple things you can do to make a mentor:

1. Assess Your Skills

Assess the skills and areas where you want to grow.  If you’re looking to get into management, you’d want to grow your management and leadership skills.  If you’re taking on a new project, you might need to brush up on your project management skills.

2. Get a Subject Matter Mentor

Once you know the skills you need to develop, you’ll want to find an expert in that area.  I call this looking for a “Subject Matter Mentor.”  This is someone who excels or specializes in the area you want to grow in.

Take the project example from earlier.  If you’re leading a new project in an area you haven’t worked in, you would find a mentor who has successfully led a similar project, reach out to that person, and learn as much as you can from them.

3. Keep it Informal

Mentorship doesn’t have to be formal.  Keeping it informal allows mentoring to happen naturally, it reduces pressure, and increases the odds the person will help. 

When I was looking to grow my leadership skills I reached out to our CIO at Intel and asked if she could provide me with some career advice.  She agreed and it turned into an informal mentorship that lasted years!

4. Foster the Relationship

Once you have your “Subject Matter Mentor,” put time into connecting with them on a personal level and maintaining the relationship.  When you meet with them avoid jumping straight to business.  Get to know them.  Ask what fun things they did over the weekend, what their latest passion project is, or what good books they’ve recently read. 

Then continue to communicate and connect with them.  Give them updates on how you applied their feedback, let them know how your plans are progressing, and meet with them from time to time for additional guidance.  The main thing is to keep the connection alive, even if it’s infrequent.

5. Say Thank You

After meeting with your mentor be sure to thank them.  This is important as it shows that you value their advice and appreciate their help. 

By saying thank you, your mentor will also be more likely to help you again in the future.  A great way to do this is with a thank you email immediately after you meet.  In your email, share what you learned and how you’ll apply it. 

Then the next time you see them, thank them again and share any progress you’ve made.

Finally, keep your appreciation authentic.  People know when someone is insincere.  Be genuine by thanking them for the specific advice that helped you.  If the guidance wasn’t what you were looking for, simply thank them for their time.  Or if it was different from what you were expecting, look for the nugget of advice that you may have missed at first.

The most successful leaders use mentors, and with a few simple steps you can too! 

What are you waiting for?  Go out and make a mentor!

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