Friday, 24 April 2015

Finding, gaining and keeping a mentor

How do we get ahead in our careers and our financial life?  It's a question that many of us ask all the time.  If you have read any books on getting ahead you will almost certainly have been told that seeking out the right mentors is incredibly important.  The problem that most of us face is twofold:

  1. How on earth do we find a mentor who is where we want to be in life?
  2. When we do find them how do we convince them to take an interest in us?
I suspect that most of us would love to be mentored by Warren Buffet or Bill Ackman but that's never going to happen.  I also have never really liked 'mentoring programs' that workplaces and student organisations typically run.  The mentors often treat it as an obligation and they are never really seem to have a real interest in you personally succeeding.

I therefore concluded that mentoring, while great in theory, was never really going to work in practice...until it did for me.  I found a mentor without actually searching for one and the experience has been far more positive than I originally imaged.

How did I find my mentor?

I didn't go out searching for a mentor.  I've always found the concept quite strange.  Of course there were people I wanted to learn off and I certainly didn't think I could do it all myself...however what did I have to offer?  Why would they take a particular interest in my life?  I found a mentor without intending to find one.  I'm not even sure that he realises that we have effectively fallen into that sort of relationship.

Where did I find my mentor?

My mentor is actually a colleague from work.  We are technically on the same level however I work in an incredibly flat organisation so our titles mean very little.  He is about 10 years older than me and has 10 years more work experience than I do.

Why do I view him as a mentor?

One big thing that I've learned is that a good mentor is not necessarily someone that is in the most high powered position or someone that has achieved everything you want to in life.  Your mentor will also often be on their own life journey, looking to achieve their own goals and ambitions...but they can offer you invaluable advice if they have already trodden a path that you are looking to follow.

My mentor is not on a rich list nor would you recognise his name if I wrote it on this blog.  However he has many other things going from him that I want to learn:
  • He is an investment guru: Many of my best investments have been things that he chatted about with me and that I went and investigated further.  Many of the things I passed on actually went on to be massive successes.  Not everything he suggests works out but he has an ability to cut his losses and take a portfolio approach which I admire
  • Family / work life balance are important to him: Many successful people I know give up everything to pursue their success.  This is not a good or a bad thing.  It is the way they have achieved as much as they have...but it's never been my goal.  My mentor manages to have a full family life and be completely financially independent...definitely nothing to sneeze at 
There are other career specific skills and traits that I would love to have that he has...and which I am learning from him.

So how did I convince him to be my mentor?

I didn't.  We never had a conversation about it and I'm still not certain that he realises that this is the type of relationship that we have.  We started with the usual work banter which then moved onto topics like our own personal investments and then over several years onto our personal lives.

I never had to 'convince' him to become interested in my life and to care about what happened with me because it happened as we built a relationship which was a two way street. I'm not only taking from this relationship...I'm also adding to it.  I am his sounding board for his investment ideas and also his financial analysis of various aspects of his life.

I get an incredible amount out of this professional / semi-personal relationship that I thought I would write some tips on how you can find a mentor.  If you want to find a high powered / top of the industry type mentor that cares about your career then the following tips are probably not for you but if, like me, you're looking for something more tangible and practical then perhaps you may want to consider using teh following technique.

How can you find a mentor?

I happened to find my mentor by chance but there were several steps in this process which were the following:

  1. Figure out what you actually want help with...where do you want to be?
  2. Do you currently know anyone who is in this position?  It may be someone from may be a friend or even be family
  3. Get that person interested in your life
  4. Don't be completely dependent on them.  Have something to offer

Figure out where you want to be in life

Before you find a mentor the first thing you need to do is actually work out what you want from your life.  Your mentor can't help you with this.  They have lived their own life and have their own biases (which often justify the life they have lived).  Work out what you want from your life.

You need to do this before you consider mentors because if you want to have a balanced life then it's no point finding a mentor who has given up everything to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  The tips they are going to offer you are not going to take you down a path you are happy with and that match with your objectives.

You don't need to work it out exactly...just enough to know the type of person you are looking for.

Do you currently know anyone that fits that profile?

We tend to discount the people we know because...well none of them are superstars.  But life is a journey.  If my aim is to get to $90 million and I look to people that have already achieved my end goal then my universe of potential mentors is incredibly small.

However if I am at half a million and I know people that have a few million banked at a reasonably young age...then they are all potentially people I can look at as mentors.

Look at people who are several steps ahead of you who are on the same journey.  If you already have a relationship with them then this is perfect.  Don't discount those that you know well either.  We often discount our family because they've always been there...but often they are the best mentors.

Get that person interested in your life

After you have identified a potential mentors get them interested in your life.  Chat to them and find out about their life.  Build a relationship.  If you already have a relationship with them turn this relationship to conversations about life planning and goals.  Don't always talk about yourself - find out about them in a genuine way.

You are building a relationship with that person to learn from them and take their life experiences. And don't forget that the best advice that you may get from that person may not be in the most serious of discussions.

Don't forget that this is a mutually beneficial relationship

This is the thing that most people forget when they go in search of a mentor.  They are only thinking of themselves and where they want to be.  They forget that for a mentor to be truly interested in helping you they need to be getting something out of the relationship themselves.

It doesn't mean that your mentor needs to be "learning" from you...just that they need to be getting something out of it.  Some mentors like having someone to talk to about their life plans and their objectives.  Others like grooming people to be like them whilst others are just looking for a sounding board for their more off the wall schemes and plans.

You need to be something to your mentor.  Your mentor needs to want to pick up the phone to chat to you or to come into your office and shoot the breeze.  Mentoring is not a one way street and remembering this will help you build the best possible relationships.

Do you have a mentor?  How did you find them and do you find it useful?

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  1. Hey 90M,

    First of all happy Friday! Really important post here and funnily enough you end up finding mentors organically and this is usually the "best" way to do it..

    Your point here "My mentor manages to have a full family life and be completely financially independent...definitely nothing to sneeze at" really hammers home a couple of your key points about finding someone that is several steps ahead of you and resonates with where you want to be..

    I've got a couple of "mentors" although like you they probably don't realise it and I find that each one offers different perspectives.. Hopefully they find it mutually beneficial as well.. Have also found a key part about mentorship is acknowledging when it is no longer serving either person and accepting that one person or both has "outgrown" the mentoring.. It sort of happens naturally I've found..

    All the best for the weekend!

    1. Hey Jef,

      I really like your point about mentors being for your stage of life. I guess that's something I've never really thought about. The fact that you outgrow mentors and that shouldn't mean that you shouldn't use them in the meantime.