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Mentorship: A Career Secret Sauce

Whether you are just starting out in your career or are a seasoned professional, the need for a good network is imperative. It has been said, “your network is your net worth”. How successful you are may largely depend on your tribe and who your professional associates are. These are the people that can make the right introductions for you, open the right doors for you, and provide you with inside information on the right opportunities for you. If you’re a successful seasoned professional you probably already know this, so I want to talk to the young men for starting out or fairly early in their careers.

Having been a corporate executive for over a decade I realize I went into the professional world with ambition…and naïveté, I had no idea what a mentor even was and I am fortunate that I am as successful as I am not having had mentors along the way. I am confident that if I would’ve sought out mentors and men who had “been there and done that” early in my career I’d be doubly if not triply successful today. Why is that? Your degree, your MBA, your limited experience mean nothing in the real world. A mentor will be the one who will guide you through the nuances of corporate politics, they will guide you through the “Who’s Who” of who you need to know what you need to avoid. Mentors are those men who have built success in a form that you recognize and want for yourself and can teach you how you can also earn your place and help you avoid the follies that either they themselves experienced or committed or saw others who failed.

A good mentor is your Yoda while you undergo Jedi training. Mentors can also serve as a godfather. Not in the sense of being the godfather to your children or in the sense of Don Corleone. But just like Cinderella had her fairy godmother, wherever you go or whatever company you join, you need a godfather who will vouch for you, or help you make the right introductions, who will speak on your behalf when names are being thrown around for promotion, who will champion and be your brand ambassador to venture companies looking for good investment opportunities. It’s not to say you can’t do it alone and be self-made and self-contained, but rest assured it will take you longer and it will be harder.

So how do you ask someone to mentor you? All you have to do is ask. However, that is only the first step. I know many successful men who are more than happy to offer advice and mentor other men to be leaders and entrepreneurs. I also know a few who have no interest in being mentors. The problem I see most is that of those asking to be mentored, there is a misunderstanding of this relationship. Mentoring is not getting a free pass or free seats at the game. It’s like asking someone to teach you how to hunt, but in reality, you don’t want to spend hours lying in wait until the right buck comes along, you just want to come to the barbecue. There is no free lunch. As a mentor, I am happy to share my advice on how to navigate to the corporate landscaper, how to start a business, how to build a brand, how to be an effective leader, but I’m not going to just recommend you for a position or promotion, recommend your product to venture capitalists, fund your business idea, or sit around for hours brainstorming with you about the next unicorn business you should start. When you seek out a mentor you have to remember by and large you have nothing to offer them. You’re asking them to do something for you but you have little to no value that you can offer them. And that’s OK, just understand and respect the dynamics that you’re asking a seasonal professional to share their most valuable commodity and that is time. The knowledge that they have, while valuable, it’s important that you be mindful and respect their time - because that is more valuable to them today.

When you seek out a mentor, you have to ask directly for what it is you want. Let them know your goals and your intent. Let them know why you’re seeking them out personally as a mentor. And if you exchange for their time there are two things that you need to be prepared to do.

1) put in the work

2) maybe buy them a drink or dinner.

But it’s the first point that most people fail to do. Everyone wants to go to heaven, no one wants to die getting there. If you ask a mentor for advice and direction and then you do nothing with that information than you have just wasted his time and yours. There’s no better feeling for a mentor than to see his protégé go out into the world and crush it. There’s no worse feeling for a mentor than to see a young man with potential who is too lazy to get out of his own way and only wants to go through the motions or talk the talk. Take the knowledge that you get and put in the work.

The last thing about mentors is that as I said before, not everyone wants to be a mentor, so you’re going to have to ask several people before you find one that will say yes. You’re also going to have to seek out different mentors at the same time. There is no one-size-fits-all. You need a mentor who will guide you through your professional growth, you may need a mentor to help guide you through growing your business, you may need a mentor to help you improve or maintain your physical fitness, you need a mentor who will help you cultivate authentic masculinity. Very rarely does one man possess the breadth of experience to mentor in all facets of business and life. I speak about having purpose and having the right people in your tribe in order to fulfill your purpose, so you need these village elders to be in your tribe so you can achieve what it is you set out to achieve. These men will show you the way, they may hold you accountable - and consider yourself fortunate if they do.

Now a quick note to those who may be in a position to mentor. It is incumbent upon you to coach and train the next generation of men. Mentoring tomorrow’s leaders does not have to take up a lot of time. An hour or two a month is probably all you need to help the next man in line. Rest assured that while you are providing the bulk value in this professional relationship the return on investment is incalculable. Not only are you training the next generation of men to be good business leaders and entrepreneurs but you’re making our market value stronger. You put out good strong leaders and business owners and they will turn it around and build great businesses that will provide jobs and make America stronger and more competitive. Each one - teach one. Once in a while, one of your mentees may turn around and repay you in the most unexpected ways. Whether it is with a bottle of really nice whiskey, a seat on their board of advisors, or a job in their new company. You don’t mentor, nor should you, with the expectation that you will get anything in return. The satisfaction that you are adding value to someone else’s life that they will put to use is rewarding in and of self. I’ve had the privilege of mentoring dozens of men and women throughout my career, most recently one of my mentees who I worked with almost 8 years ago returned the favor in an incredible way. It was this mentee who took my name to a company CEO and Board of Directors and assured them that they needed to contact me to help them turn around a critical situation the company was facing. Mind you, I hadn’t spoken to this individual in over five years, but the fact that they thought enough of our relationship to bring my name up as a solution to a pressing problem they were facing I found remarkable and was honored. Again, if you don’t go into mentoring relationships expecting something on the other side only that whomever you take under your wing learns to soar to great heights.

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