Follow the Leader
Mentors: Guides to Success
Many successful people can point to one or more people in their lives who have shared their knowledge without expecting anything in return—a mentor. A mentor is someone who has expertise about something that you do not. Mentoring is about imparting ideas, advice and encouragement. It’s also about mistakes. Good mentors will share their own to help you avoid making the same ones. Could you benefit from a mentor?
Start with Reflection
Before you look for a mentor, spend some time thinking about your own strengths and deficits. What skills are you lacking? Where do you have gaps in knowledge? What are you interested in learning?
The answers to those questions may help you to both narrow down and broaden your mentor wish list. For example, if you know that one of your weaknesses is understanding how policies are underwritten, you’ll want to engage with an insurance expert. But if you realize that you need help presenting that information to customers, a public-speaking specialist may have more value.
What Makes a Good Mentor?
An ideal mentor is someone who knows their field, is willing to share their time and knowledge, and who cares about your well-being. Generally, they have found success in one or more ways that you still need to learn.
This does not always mean they are financially successful or the best in your chosen field. None of Michael Jordan’s teachers or coaches could play basketball as well as he could, and they certainly didn’t earn as much money. But they could see his unique talents and help him reach his full potential.
Professional and service organizations are great places to meet mentors, because people who choose to become members have already indicated an interest in getting to know others by the very act of joining. Crowdsourcing on social media is also a good way to get recommendations and possibly a personal introduction, too. Try posting your variation of this idea:
“I’d love to talk with someone who knows a lot about sales/building a business/marketing/XYZ. Please get in touch if you know anyone who fits the bill.”
You could also try a mentoring cold call. Do you know of a successful person in your field who is not a direct competitor? A bit of flattery in the form of a sincere note or email like this may open the door:
As a fellow insurance agent, I admire how you have built a successful business and reputation. I consider you a role model and would love to pick your brain over a coffee sometime—my treat. Please let me know if you have the time for a quick meeting. And if not, know that you’ve got a fan in me!
Prepare to Pay
As a mentee, your role is not to steal someone else’s business or replicate their success. It should be about learning new ideas and figuring out how you can apply someone else’s principles of success to your own work and life.
It also doesn’t mean you should expect someone to do work for you for free. Asking a marketing expert for general advice is one thing; asking them to come up with ideas for a new advertising campaign is another. Take care not to step over any lines.
Show Your Thanks
Let your mentor know that you respect their time and appreciate their expertise. A coffee-shop gift card, a bottle of wine or a donation to a charity that your mentor supports are all easy ways to say thanks. And perhaps the best way you can show your gratitude to those who have helped you is to be willing to be a mentor yourself.
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