Let me start with this quote by John C. Shin - “Show me your mentor and I’ll show you your future”. And this is absolutely true.
In my posts on 5 surprisingly Effective Ways to find the right Mentor and 2 Stunning Types of Mentoring Relationship You Can Have... I discussed how you can find the right mentor and the two types of mentoring relationships you can have respectively. So, how do we ask someone to be our mentor?
Alright, let’s talk about how we can ask someone to be our mentor.
We've identified the person, and now we need to approach them and ask for this formal relationship. Before we do that, though, I want to talk a little bit about this quote, "the mentor relationship needs to be an active one".
As you think about your mentoring relationship... don't think about a once-a-month lunch that you're going to have with someone. This is a real relationship where we're putting in the effort, the mentor is putting in the effort, we're going to learn and grow. That can be painful at times. It's definitely going to be an active relationship.
Here are some things to think about with regard to asking someone to be our mentor. First, we should have a relationship with this person. Hopefully, it's one of our first degree contacts, but it could even be from an introduction from one of our first-degree contacts. You wouldn't walk up to somebody on the corner of a street and say, hey, would you be my mentor. That's asking a lot of someones who really have no idea who we are.
As you think about a formal mentoring relationship, you might want to think about starting small. Instead of committing to a 12 or 24-month relationship, maybe you ask for one meeting. That way they can get an idea of what your needs are and whether they could help you or not... and you can get an idea of their style and the way they respond.
Before you ask someone for a mentoring relationship, you should know what you want. The more you can define this, the better that conversation will go when your mentor says, well, what are you looking for and how do you think I can help you? I encourage you to actually practice inviting the person to be your mentor. This is a serious commitment that you're getting into and asking them to get into. Why not take some time in front of the mirror or with 3 x 5 cards to practice how that conversation is going to go.
When you ask someone to be your mentor, you'll need to help them understand the scope of what you're asking them for. You're not asking them to come to your office every day or every week, maybe you're simply asking for that once-a-month check-in.
Helping them understands their role and the scope of the relationship can help them know whether this is something they can commit to or not. Also, they need to know that you are ready and willing to work. This mentoring relationship isn't necessarily about them... although they should get plenty of value from the relationship, this is about you.
You have objectives, you have a problem, you need help, are you really ready to do the work? Make sure they know that you are ready. You should be ready for them to say "No". They might already be too committed or really not understand the value of a mentoring relationship for them.
If you ask someone for a relationship and they turn you down, I wouldn't take it too hard or take it personally. Maybe their circumstances will change later or for now, someone else might be a better fit.
Essentially, you are trying to sell them on this relationship. Because of that, you might want to think about what the value will be for them. What are they going to get out of being a mentor?
Think about that and have some responses prepared so that you can have a better conversation. Here are four parts of the conversation you might have when you ask them to be your mentor. Because the order can be mixed up, I didn't number them 1 through 4. Instead, I've used A, B, C, and D.
A. Why you want to have the relationship
One of the elements of your request is to present why you want to have a relationship.
This might look like this;
"I feel kind of stuck in my career right now... ", or
"I want to get to the next level of my career..." or,
"I know I need a guide to help me through this situation... ". Basically what you're doing is you're setting out the reason why you need a mentor.
B. What their role would be
The second element is to explain what their role would be. For example;
"I'm looking for someone who can help me..." do a certain thing, "I think it's time to sit down with someone once a month... ".
What this would tell me is that you've already done a certain amount and feel like you've maxed out what you know how to do, and now you need to bring somebody in.
Or, you put it all out on the table and say, "I'm looking for someone who can mentor me... ".
C. Where you explain your commitment or the idea that you're ready to work
The third element of this conversation is where you explain your commitment or the idea that you're ready to work.
You might say, "I know it will be a lot of work on my part, and I'm ready..." to do that work.
Or you might say, "I'm committed to doing what it takes to get there... ".
Or you might say, "I plan on spending a lot of time to get... ", and then whatever the objectives are that you've already lain out.
D. When you actually ask them if they would be your mentor
The final part of this conversation is when you actually ask them if they would be your mentor. You might say, will you meet with me as a mentor for the next three months or you could say; "Are you open to being my mentor to help me...” Work through these problems.
Or you could say, "Will you help me by being my mentor and guiding me..." as I work towards my next promotion.
I've given you four different elements of this conversation.
In summary, present the reason why you're looking for a mentor, explain what their part would be, explain your commitment... let them know that you're ready to work, and finally, ask them if they will be your mentor.
Now the question is, should we do this on the phone, should we do it in email, or should we do it face-to-face?
I would prefer the meat of this conversation to happen fact-to-face. I think that's the best way to do this, however, that's not always going to be possible. You can do this on the phone or in email or face-to-face. Whichever way you choose to do this, just make sure that you have some kind of relationship... and are ready to have the conversation that would include the four elements that we just talked about.