It’s no secret that being mentored is a powerful tool for achieving success—but it’s worth noting that there are correct and wrong approaches to seeking out mentors. The truth is, the greatest mentor relationships often occur without any sort of “formal declaration” at all! Questions were asked and answered, opinions voiced and exchanged; quite suddenly, an effortless relationship was born. Thus it appears clear: A successful mentorship need not require bureaucracy or awkward notes asking if someone would care to be your mentor–just honest communication will suffice!
Learn how to find a mentor from 8 extraordinary individuals who know the ropes of success. Discover what is essential for mentorship and avoid mistakes that could be detrimental to your progress!
1. It’s not a matter of rank or status, but rather the person they are.
“For me mentorship is vital. I absolutely attribute a lot of my success to being in a position where I had a lot of great mentors, and people I could go to and ask for advice. The quality of your mentors is really important as a young individual in the workplace because it really shapes your perspective on how work should be done. For example, if you have a mentor that isn’t the most forward-thinking or honest, I think that can be a bad thing. I’ve been very blessed to have had mentors that are incredibly honest and transparent and are quality leaders and I think it has really helped shape who I am as a person.” —Alexa von Tobel, CEO & Founder of LearnVest
[Related: How Being a Sorority Big Sister Taught Me to Be a Mentor]
2. Every relationship is unique; your mentor could come in any shape or form. Don’t limit yourself to a single expectation!
“One key piece of advice I would give is not necessarily to look for someone that you can build a relationship with but look for someone who you can ask a straightforward question to, who can reply to an email very easily to you. What is it that you need? Don’t look so much on let’s sit down and have coffee or let’s have a cocktail but what is the one thing that you need this particular person that you’re seeking a mentor from to actually guide you through I think that’s what has helped me a lot is when there’s a certain question that I have and I kind of point it to the right person that I know who can actually answer it. It takes the pressure off the person who is being asked.”—Janet Mock, NYTimes Bestselling Author, advocate, and host of MSNBC’s “So POPular”
3. Instead of requiring coffee or dinner meetings, be open to other arrangements.
“In the 35-45 [age range] you have mothers who operate and think very different than dads in that age range. Why? Because women mothers want and need time at home with their children. That time after work is precious, so no matter how amazing the event is, they probably won’t come because family matters more. So when I’m networking, I can’t think like a 29-year-old single guy. I have to think like the target I’m trying to attract. The same thing applies to young Levo women. Don’t approach them in the way that’s most comfortable for you. Approach them where they’re at and with them in mind. For example, I’ve found that coffees aren’t really the most effective way to meet people in certain demographics. It’s imperative that we all try to find alternative and new ways to connect with people. That’s a very important lesson I’ve learned over the years.” —Kevin Conroy Smith, Founder of The Number Project
[Related: How to Be a Mentee a Mentor Would Die For]
4. In addition to seeking out mentors, don’t forget the people around you who could offer guidance and direction.
“It’s critical to celebrate and lift your peers. People are chasing potential mentors, and we should always have a mentor or two, but support and rock with our peers. That girl standing next to you could be the one to hire you in 5 years, or could be the one contact at a major brand whose sponsor dollars you need. It’s a tiny planet and relationships are everything!” —Geneva S. Thomas, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Jawbreaker.NYC
5. Your mentor typically discovers you rather than the other way around!
“My mentors found me working. My boss was my mentor when I got my first full-time job at 25. My first boss literally taught me how to order from restaurants because I was a Black girl from Inglewood, CA and I had never had sushi, I had never been to Mr. Chow, I had never been to a restaurant on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills but with this new job, I had meetings there. She helped me with everything from my skin to my hair to what to order. She bought me my first gift card to Barneys; I remember thinking ‘What is Barneys?’. I remember she gave me a $250 gift card to Barneys and the sheer fact that I had to go into Barneys was a mentoring experience. It was exposure, which I believe is your greatest education. Your mentor usually finds you doing great work. People think that mentors come with angel wings and fall from the heavens; ‘I am your mentor.’ It’s usually not like that. It’s usually somebody who helps you in a certain aspect of your life and grooms you.”—Myleik Teele, Founder of curlBOX
6. Broaden your horizons and venture beyond the limits of familiarity.
“Search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career. But here’s an important warning: you don’t have to have mentors who look like you. Had I been waiting for a black, female Soviet specialist mentor, I would still be waiting. Most of my mentors have been old white men because they were the ones who dominated my field.” —Condoleeza Rice, Director of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business Global Center for Business and the Economy, and Former US Secretary of State
7. Instead of inquiring a CEO for their roadmap, seek out counsel on how to navigate your own journey.
“Being a mentor is about just believing in somebody and caring enough to share your knowledge. My mentors don’t necessarily have the answer to everything but what they can do is share wisdom and share experiences. When I meet someone that I want to be my mentor, I just want them to tell me stories. I just want to sit with them and soak up as much history from their lives as I can. There is this richness in history and the wisdom that comes from experience that trumps any kind of smarts. To me, that’s what mentorship is: drawing from that wisdom. When someone who is 25 is asking me questions now at 34, that’s what they are asking for. They aren’t asking me to just tell them exactly what to do. They are asking me to care enough to give them the proper story of what they are looking for in their life. Because that’s exactly what I ask for. I tell my mentors exactly what’s going on with me and I ask ‘Is there anything in your life that you can draw from to help me.’ They’ve been there. I want to learn from the mistakes of the past. I want to learn from the successes.” —Scooter Braun, Founder of School Boy Records
8. Maintain a balanced exchange; don’t be too demanding of your mentor.
“Mentorship is about being able to empower each other, being willing to listen, give advice, and coach people. In so many facets of my career, mentorship and the idea of empowering each other has been huge factor in my success. Whether it was fundraising or general advice, finding people who are willing to talk to you about the process and believe in you and share their experiences has been a huge help to me. It’s like a sisterhood. I love the opportunity to mentor other people and share my experiences and hopefully have people learn from my mistakes and successes.” —Jamie Rutenberg, COO of Charm & Chain
9. Mentorship is not a rescue device; it’s an empowering partner!
“Mentorship is not a life vest. You cannot reach and claw for people to save you from the deep end, or even save you from the shallow end— some people are looking for mentors in the shallow end; not even doing anything that warrants a mentor. It should be mutually beneficial. I believe that if you’re looking for someone to help you and you’re not bringing anything to the table, that’s really not cool. You should always bring something to your mentor’s life. My mentor has never paid for a meal with me— I pay for every single meal because I appreciate her. She was the one who pushed me to stop selling myself short. She would say ‘Myliek you’re better than this.’ She pushed me until I finally believed it.” —Myleik Teele, Founder of curlBOX