Why You Need Them and Where to Find Them

Sara Knapp

Post by Sara Knapp, Executive Coach

Success leaves clues. It’s much easier to learn from others who have gone before you than to reinvent the wheel. Mentors are people who can help show you the ropes, share their hard learned lessons and teach you the subtitles(is there a better word than subtitles) of what has worked for them. It’s how the best get better. They learn from, and grow through, the wisdom of their mentors. 

You too can benefit from those who've gone before you. It’s not as difficult as you might think. Start by making a list of those who you aspire to be like in your department, organization or industry. Beside each name write down what it is you admire about them. Is it their political savvy? Their charismatic style? Their book of clients? Or perhaps their ability to balance a family and a career? 

If you already know this person then great. If not - just as you'd do in a job search - use your existing network to get a warm introduction. And then ask for their help. In doing so, make sure you share what it is that you admire about them, why you're coming to them, and what your objective is. The less you know the person, the smaller your ask should be. 

Most people won't ask at all. They come up with all kinds of excuses: "They wouldn't want to help me"; "It doesn't work that way in my organization"; "They are far too busy for me."; "I have nothing to offer in return". How do you know? In reality, most people enjoy sharing their war stories, helping others learn from their mistakes, and supporting the development of up-and-comers. Not everyone does of course. But there are enough of them out there who do. 

As for offering something in return - yes the relationship has to be reciprocal to be sustainable - but it’s important to remember that deep listening and gratitude are gifts themselves and often enough. So don't be shy about seeking out mentors. 

Yes, it can feel awkward and uncomfortable at first to put yourself out there and ask for what you want. But it’s exactly there - outside of your comfort zone - where the greatest gifts and opportunities lie. So be brave, venture out, pursue these relationships, and give yourself the competitive advantage you deserve.