Looking for a Mentor? Start by Looking for a Friend

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Behind every successful person is a fantastic mentor.

I was fortunate to learn this lesson early in my career. And looking back over the years, I can still identify the mentors in my life whose advice profoundly affected and changed me.

Often people—especially young people who are just starting off in their careers—don’t know how to find a good mentor or how to continue nurturing that relationship. I’ve written about the different types of mentors you’ll need in your life, but actually finding these mentors can be difficult. There’s no clear answer, and you can’t dial up 1–800-Mentor-Me. These friendships tend to grow organically, as mine have. But when do you find a potential mentor, here are a few ways you can turn a chance meeting into a deeper relationship.

1. Remember that mentoring is a two-way street.

It might not sound like rocket science, but keep in mind that your mentor has to get some (if not as much) out of the relationship as you. It has to be enjoyable. They have to like spending time with you and not feel like it’s a chore. How do you do this? It can be as simple as being a good listener or a good source of information. Take the time to send this person interesting articles relevant to his/her career or business, because people appreciate that you care. One of my mentors used to say it was fun to talk on the phone, and that’s why he’d call me back. Mentoring is a friendship, and if you approach it from the idea of what you can give that person, you will create a better connection.

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2. Trust is key.

There’s two kinds of trust in the mentor/mentee relationship. As with any other healthy relationship, the first trust is to simply never betray your mentor’s confidence. Whatever he/she tells you privately should never leave the room. The second form of trust is best described as “trustiness”—are you someone who will actually follow up on what you say? Will you really email the contact you’ve been given? Will you do those three things your mentor asked you to do? If you don’t, you’ll be considered unreliable and untrustworthy, which will result in a distinct lack of interest from your mentor. Don’t do it!

3. Be yourself.

Drop this in the category of “easy to say, hard to do.” Believe me, I know. As a child of immigrant parents, I was always taught to revere my elders and treat them with the utmost respect. That works when you’re 12, but not always when you’re 30. I had to “unlearn” some of these habits through the years and punch through that wall of politeness. People appreciate being able to let their hair down and talk casually, even if that person is very senior to you. They want to see what you’re really like and hear your true thoughts and opinions.

The last thing I will say about mentors is that quality is the most important thing. It’s not important how many mentors you have, it’s the quality of your relationship with them that matters. I can count in single digits the number of mentors I’ve had through the years, and each relationship has helped make me a better person.

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