“Will you be my mentor?”
It’s almost as awkward as asking someone in middle school, “Will you be my girlfriend?” That’s not to say that mentorship isn’t worthwhile. The opposite is true. I’ve learned more about how to make great radio from mentors than any book or degree. In fact, without the invaluable influence of Mark Elfstrand, Josh Villa and Cisco Cotto, I wouldn’t be behind a mic every morning.
Tragically, mentorship is rare. Many people want one, but few find a way to actually make it happen. After gleaning epic wisdom from these three men, I’ve developed a few tips for establishing a mentorship relationship of your own:
Don’t ask anyone to be your mentor. Ever.
Think about it for a moment. What in the world does that mean, anyway? Are you asking them to talk on the phone every day? Be your best friend? Take long walks on the beach? No matter how you phrase it, the question reeks of a significant commitment that nobody in their right mind wants to make. And it’s just plain weird. In my life, the word “mentor” has only been used in hindsight to express admiration and respect.
Be on the lookout for someone with more wisdom and experience than you.
It’s time to get over yourself and realize that you don’t know everything. Armed with a generous dose of humility, you’ll quickly identify individuals who have what it takes to get you to the next level. Their talent isn’t a threat or a source of competition. It’s your ticket to improvement.
Start by asking for feedback and advice on ONE thing.
Asking a colleague to be your mentor is awkward. Asking for help is normal. Identify an area of personal development, and seek out assistance from someone better than you at that one thing. With this approach, I can virtually guarantee they’ll oblige.
Act on the advice you’re given.
Most people develop a creative ego-driven reason to dismiss advice. Resist this temptation. Even if you think the recommendation is crazy, bite your lip and give it a try. There’s nothing more annoying than someone who asks for advice, and then completely ignores it.
Take time to personally and directly express gratitude for valuable wisdom.
You swallowed your pride, asked for advice and gave it a try. Now it’s time to do what your mother told you to do. Look them in the eye and thank them for the help. Tell them what happened, and how their input made a difference. Not only is this polite, it shows that you’re worth the effort.
Take them out to lunch.
Or coffee would suffice. Either way, take the initiative and invest in your desire to learn. This scenario creates an opportunity for you to get undivided attention, and the gesture is an overt expression of your value for their wisdom.
Learn their story.
The best way to explore the corners of their knowledge without being creepy is to ask about their journey. Pry for funny stories, big mistakes and major victories. Meet their old friends, and soak up the war stories. The payoff is truly priceless.
Help them succeed.
Even highly successful people have goals and dreams. If your objective is purely selfish the connection won’t last. And you’ll look like a jerk. Express your appreciation for those who invest in you by using your talents to help them win. Enhance their reputation by speaking positively about them with sincerity. Advocate for them when they aren’t around.
Accept various levels of mentorship.
Some of my mentors simply made themselves available when I had questions. Others went out of their way to give me more time and energy than I deserve. So, try to avoid creating ideals and expectations in advance. Let the connection develop organically and be grateful for where you end up.
Thankfully, mentorship is nothing like dating. When done correctly, you’ll never have to define the relationship. So stop overthinking it, and get to work learning from someone better than you.