Most young people don’t realise the enormous benefits of having a mentor, but if you’re looking for an edge or if you aren’t where you want to be, then engaging with someone who is more experienced and represents where you want to go is invaluable in achieving your goals. Mentoring is about connecting yourself with endless resources and possibilities.
I was lucky enough to have David Goldstone waltz his way into my life more than a decade ago. My dad introduced us and once you’re a friend of David’s, he doesn’t let you go. I still get a hard time from him if I don’t call in every week so he can irritate the shit out of me and at the same time squeeze the best out of me.
Whilst I always enjoyed David asking me where I’d like to go in my career and how he could help get me there, his favourite phrases were: “Will the real Nick Poll please stand up?” and “Will you shut up and listen?”
I’m ashamed to say it took me a long time to really understand what he was on about. In hindsight, I think my biggest impediment was my own self limiting beliefs. Fortunately, David’s vision of me was much bigger than mine.
People with such experience can see things you can’t, not just because they come from a different perspective, but also because they’ve been everywhere already. If you’ve never gotten to second base, how would you know about third base and all the things you need to do now if you ever want to make it to home base?
Mentors provide a knowledgeable ear to bounce ideas off and can help you understand what’s possible. They can also help you develop your soft skills, like creativity, empathy, listening and self-awareness.
Fortunately, the world is full of experts who would love to mentor you. You just need to have the right approach and a little courage. I’m constantly amazed at how much people are willing to help me and younger people who reach out to experts and receive a response far beyond their greatest expectations.
It’s simply a matter of asking for help and explaining why. Research your passion and find people within your field who you admire and have achieved things you’d like to emulate. Then simply call them and explain this, and ask to meet with them for a chat about the industry and its possibilities for you.
Using this method, I’ve met with hundreds of people who have both helped me to see myself in new ways and helped me access resources I had not thought possible. Many of these opportunities have changed my life. Some people I mentor and some people mentor me. And sometimes it swaps around.
There have only been one or two occasions, out of hundreds, where a mentoring request has not been possible. Most people are delighted to be a mentor.
A young engineer friend of mine enjoyed the benefits of mentoring after he graduated from university. He was very passionate about getting into well head engineering for drill holes in the oil and gas industry, but didn’t know how to find a way in. I suggested that he research an interesting technology development in the sector and contact the key experts at its forefront to ask for a chat about the industry and possible directions for him to work towards.
The concept of calling someone in this way scared the hell out of him, but he was well rewarded. He was able to get hold of a couple of very experienced guys who gave him really helpful advice for his honours thesis and helped him get a job.
The approach might seem unusual, but imagine if you were the senior manager in a company and someone contacted you with so much enthusiasm. This young hopeful would be a very logical candidate for internships and future work because this proactive approach demonstrates passion and the interest to learn.
An easy way to get things moving with your mentor is to discuss the following 3 questions:
‘Where are you now?’ - which is about assessing your resources, skills and opportunities;
‘Where do you want to go’ - which is about finding your passion and being open to new possibilities and routes of getting there; and
‘What do you need to get there?’ – which is where your mentor can really help identify barriers and opportunities you might not have considered.
Many of the people I mentor will ask if there’s something they can do for me because they feel like they haven’t been able to give back to me in the same way I’ve helped them. But I always explain that mentoring them has helped me immeasurably – it has helped me establish a sense of identity above and beyond my business achievements and exposed me to new ways of thinking that only the younger generation is capable of.
The funny thing is that many of the people I’m mentoring are now encouraging me to do things beyond my comfort zones in ways I never could have anticipated. They inspire me in ways that guys my age would not think to do, for example encouraging me to write these articles, which has opened up a whole new world of writing skills.
I mentored a marketing guy in a video production company and helped him through a difficult period in his work, and we also came up with some great ideas for new projects a year ago, but now he’s pushing me to make videos myself and getting into me almost every week to motivate me to do something new. It’s phenomenal because now he’s mentoring me right back and this is exactly how mentoring is both a mutual beneficial and also a totally expectation-free activity. While you don’t do it expecting anything in return, you can’t help but grow from the experience and create new possibilities in both your lives.
This phenomenon is not uncommon – Jack Welch calls it reverse mentoring and thats what makes mentoring so rewarding. I’ve been aware of it for a long time, but I didn’t realise the extent to which it would occur and it seems to be augmented by improving your listening and empathy, which in turn helps in being open to new ideas for me and those around me.
A few tips if you're starting out. Don’t try and force things. Let the conversation ebb and flow. A mentor doesn’t need you to try and offer anything upfront, so don’t try and mentor them. Its sufficient to share your experience and ask what they think. A good mentor will pick up what you are doing and go with the flow. Remember, you’re not asking them to solve your problem, just to share experiences and thoughts.
Some conversations will be good, some not so good. Learn to seek out those that nourish and support you most and to forge strong relationships with them.
Mentoring has been around for as long as people have aspired to achieve great things and there’s a reason for that – it works. So, open yourself to new opportunities by taking on an old fogey like me – you never know where we might lead you.