Want A Mentor? Do Your Homework First

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By Nilofer Merchant (Contributing Writer, Harvard Business Review) A CEO of a software company reaches out to me recently, and asks me to take a 20-minute meeting to review his strategy/execution software. Sounds low-key, right? I put forth a requirement to do the meeting. I also implied he could show me how his software fit into a model. But he said “No, thanks”. And disappeared. I find his behavior odd, don’t you? But at one level, I don’t find it odd at all.

He was unwilling to do the homework to do a successful meeting. He had no idea what he wanted. He asked for an unrealistic timeframe to create any real value. He was simply trolling for meetings, which maybe gave him the illusion of progress, but I’m darn sure he’s not making actual progress. If you want a mentor or an advisor, here’s some simple ways to get one and to have it work for you:

  1. Know what you want. Your own discernment starts the learning process so you are only helping yourself. The more specific you are, the better. This will help you get a good match.
  2. Before asking, do your homework. You’ve heard me say this before it is so easy to find out about people. Slideshare, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogging. Seriously, it takes just a little bit to find out about people. Know what the person cares about. Dig beyond pg. 2 of the Google search. Find out why they would want to help someone else. Ideally, you can find a connection so that you can be introduced. Which will increase your odds of getting a "yes".
  3. It's their terms. If they hike, offer to go on a hike with them. Even if they live another 100 miles away, plan on going to them. Make it easy for them to say yes by doing all the heavy lifting. Write the blurb draft, do whatever to make it easy for them to help you.
  4. Charm. Use it. Don't have it. Learn it. Charm never hurts. Remember that you're doing an ask so give them room to say no. That way, you can come back to them later without losing that opportunity.
  5. Do your part. When I help people, I’m putting in my X number years of experience into condensed simple-sounding lessons. My mentee's job is to apply those lessons and get a going. [Well to be honest, you have 3 choices to ask a clarifying question, explain why you won't do it, or do it. But those are your only 3 options.] Don't ignore the advice of your mentor and then expect that relationship to continue. That’s your part of the bargain. Make shit happen, go kick some ass by using the lessons you learn. And then circle back and tell them what you did cause it reflects on them, too.

Mentors and advisors have made the world of difference to me in my career and in my life. The best are the ones I meet for wine and we can have fun and learn with each other.

I'm grateful and amazed. It’s one reason why I love helping other people. The fact that I put a hurdle in the way? Well, that’s just a way of making sure the person is ready, we're aligned, and together, something good can come from the time together.

This post was originally published at NiloferMerchant.com.

About the guest blogger: Nilofer Merchant is a corporate advisor and speaker on innovation methods. Her first book, The New How, offering a handbook for setting direction collaboratively to achieve results, was published in 2010. Follow her on Twitter at @nilofer or sign up to get her blog at blog.nilofermerchant.com.