Having a mentor can be the key to not only climbing the corporate ladder and navigating unchartered career waters like a ship captain, but also to personal growth. Think of the most successful people you’ve met, famous or otherwise, chances are they’ve had someone in their corner along for the ride.
As Mark Zuckerberg once put it when reflecting on his personal mentor, Steve Jobs; “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world.” Yep, even the worlds most popular social media company was built on the back of a fruitful mentorship relationship.
That said, the best mentorships take a whole lot of outreach, effort and long-term relationship building - just ask our Managing Director here at 84, Mark. Throughout Mark’s career and the building of business, he’s had a handful of mentors from family friends to the great All Blacks coach, Sir Graham Henry.
We sat down with Mark to get the low-down on how he’s managed to connect with the mentors in his life, what they’ve offered (and what he’s been able to offer back), and the best ways to build your relationship with your mentor/s over time.
1. A little reflection goes a long way
We know we say this all the time, but it rings true in a lot of facets of life. Always do a little reflecting before taking the next step, whether that’s applying for a job or reaching out to a potential mentor, it’s really important to understand what you’ve achieved so far and where you want to be in the future.
In fact, Mark says having goals and a career plan was where his mentor relationships grew from:
“If I think of the mentors I’ve got in my life, where it all started for me was looking to people for inspiration that had either achieved what I’m looking to achieve or perhaps had life experience in the areas I wanted to grow.”
When you approach a mentor, one of the first questions they’ll be wondering is what they can do for you and whether they’ll be able to help you on your journey or not - and you’ll need to have that answer locked and loaded. As Mark says;
“If you think about it from work or a professional point of view, you’ve actually got to do a bit of soul searching around the skills and the experience, levels and promotions that you envisage yourself doing in the next 3 -5 years, and ideally, you want someone who’s already walked that path.”
It also helps to bring your mentor along on your journey by being humble and telling them what you’re looking to learn.
“Have a compelling story about where you are and where you want to be. A mentor isn’t going to buy into you unless they feel like they can contribute somewhere.
When I met Graham Henry, for example, I looked up to him for how to best change your leadership style, because that’s what he had to do, he’s walked that path. He went from a manager to really understanding the signs of good leadership which drove a better culture in the All Blacks.”
To help your mentor know where you’re headed and how they can help to get you there, you need to be clear on that yourself.
2. Plant the seed, see what grows
Once you’ve spent some time figuring out where you’re looking to grow professionally, the next step is for many people the scariest one - go out on a limb and reach out. Often people look at mentorship as a connection with people you may already know or have worked with, that doesn’t have to be the case. For Mark, the majority of his mentors have come from his own initiative.
“I’ve literally reached out to them. Just being proactive and knowing who is where and who’s doing what. That comes from a multitude of places but I think one of the big things is probably having a willingness and desire to network.”
In saying that, for those of us who aren’t natural networkers, that can be a big ask.
“I find it naturally easy and for some people, it’s really really daunting but with the power of technology these days - I can think of another mentor whose become an advisor on our board and that all came from me literally reaching out over LinkedIn and saying hey, can I grab you a coffee? It’s as easy as that”
The bottom line here is, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. So always reach out, even if it’s uncomfortable at first.
“In my view, they’re just people, and how many humans do you know that don’t want to help another human? Everyone wants to help someone, and some may help more than others and be willing.”
3. Be authentic, open up and make sure your values align
Once you’ve reached out to your prospect mentor, the next step is to really make sure your values are in alignment. This might be the single most important part of a mentor relationship to get right. It’s not always about the job or industry you’re in, it’s about whether you connect on a personal level, Mark explains.
“Being select with who that person is, is important. Someone you have high levels of trust with quickly is a sign that it’s a good match/mix so you can feel at ease and feel comfortable. Typically that would stem from you being authentic with how you feel and who you are, and likewise getting a real understanding of who the real person your mentor is.”
To develop this level of personal connection and get a good feel for if you have good value alignment with your mentor, like with any human connection, the key is to be vulnerable.
“Typically that would only come through sharing some personal experiences in life. People who are willing to open up and share their story on a deeper level - you want someone you can connect with on a deeper level.”
If you’re able to connect on this level and your values with your mentor align, chances are, you’ve found a keeper.
“The ones that really are behind you, believe in you and care about you (your kids, business balance sheets, the lot), the ones that know you better are the ones you want to keep closer.”
4. Mentorship is a two-way street
When you’re reaching out to someone and asking them to be your mentor, you’re asking for a slice of their time in a likely busy schedule. Mentorships should be a two-way street, where you both benefit from the relationship. One way to achieve this is to make sure you’re thoughtful and give back.
“Go as hard as you can and want but give something in return, too. Genuinely thank them. I like to do things like a nice Christmas present or put a bit of thought into their birthday to genuinely thank them for their time and efforts.”
As with any kind of relationship, a little thoughtfulness can go a long way. But don’t worry if you don’t have the money to take your mentor out for lunches or buy them gifts, what it’s really about is looking for opportunities to give value back.
“People probably get a little intimidated thinking ‘what can I offer them’ - it comes down to thinking about “how can I benefit them in any way.” It might be inviting them to an event they didn’t know was on or even connecting them with other people that they don’t yet know about.”
With a mentorship, a little goes a long way. It shows that you care, and are genuinely appreciative of their efforts.
“Any little bit of value you can give them - you might think it’s really insignificant but it shows genuine intent to make it a reciprocal relationship. If you’re helping them, they’ll be more than happy to help you.”
5. Diversify your mentor portfolio
Last but not least, it’s important to understand that different mentors can help you in different aspects of your life. In other words, diversify your mentor portfolio.
“For me, I’ve got professional mentors and people I pay to help me in certain areas, and I’ve got people who I know if I’ve got a really risky situation I’d go to the mentor who’s maybe really risk-averse which would give me a polarising view. It’s important to know what skills these mentors bring to you.”
Don’t limit yourself to one mentor if you can, and try to make sure you’re getting a range of different opinions and people who will challenge you - not just hypemen/women.
“You want a mentor that doesn’t necessarily agree with what you think. Have a diverse range of mentors on the basis of race and gender - that’s how you expand your mind. I always think about having female mentors as inspiration as well as males.”
Whoever your mentors are, it’s important to make sure there’s something unique that you can learn from them. As Mark puts it;
“It’s that old lesson in life, you don’t learn anything unless you fail. That’s where the biggest and the best lessons come from - if you can fast-track your success by not having to make the same mistakes.”