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We All Need Mentors

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
4 min read
We All Need Mentors

Last weekend, Dom Holland, the outspoken and inspirational CEO of Fast, shared the following tweet:

I don't know Domm or his intention behind his tweet, but I couldn't disagree more with the basic message. This is generally bad advice and doesn't send the right message to the scores of founders who follow him. It's also a privileged perspective. There are millions of humans who need mentors far more than either Domm or I can even comprehend.

We shouldn't be shouting from the rooftops saying, "You don't need a mentor." Instead, we should be shouting: WE ALL NEED MENTORS. Not just one but a tribe of them with a range of achievements, skills, and experiences.

A mentor is simply an experienced and trusted advisor. They instill confidence. They inspire. They share stories. They providing a sounding board. They open their network. They help us see around corners. They push us. They lift us up when we're down. They recommend books. They provide input. They accelerate our learning and development. They make us better. They genuinely care about us.

Who doesn't want or need that?

I've been privileged to have worked with some incredible mentors over the years. Some are living. Some I've never met. Some are related to me. Some I've only met virtually. Some I've read and listened to. Some are formal. Some are informal. Some are my peers. Some are my elders. Some are aspirational. Some have blue collar jobs. Some are spiritual. Some are atheist. Some provide advice. Some just listen.

Here's my point: There are mentors and teachers everywhere. They come from different backgrounds and in different forms. Go beyond a pre-conception of what a mentor means. They can emerge from unexpected places and when you least expect it.

So where do you begin if you want to find a new mentor?

I typically start at my journal. Here are some prompts I rely upon to help me clearly articulate what I want to learn and who might be able to help.

  • What's behind my desire to find a mentor?
  • What are my short-and-long-term goals?
  • What skills and qualities do I want to cultivate?
  • Where do I want to be in five years? What gaps do I want to fill?
  • What qualities do I want and value in a mentor?
  • Who do I respect and would love to learn from?
  • What accomplishments and experiences draw me towards this person?
  • Who is a few steps ahead of me in terms of where I want to go?
  • Who in my network can help me identify potential mentors?

If I don't have an existing relationship with a potential mentor, I rely upon my network for a warm intro. These are always most effective. Thoughtful and honest cold emails are usually the second best option. That's how I initially met Jerry Colonna. I poured my heart out to him. I was comfortable requesting an informal meeting because I was clear on why I was reaching out and what I hoped to achieve. We met two weeks later.

Many of my mentor relationships have started informally and grown organically over time. This allowed us to get to know each other and develop a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. With most things in life, I play the long game. I can't recommend this enough. Just like with finding a coach, fit and connection on both sides is so important. This shouldn't be rushed.

When I move to formalize a relationship, I articulate how frequently I'd like to meet and for how long. We usually connect once a month for 30-60 minutes in person or over Zoom. I also like to stay in touch virtually so I can send updates or burning questions as they arise. Expectation setting is really important. I can't stress this enough. Most people are busy. Make sure it works and is easy for them.

When there isn't a fit or I've been told no, I've taken it in stride. I always thank the person for their time and consideration. I also keep them posted on my progress through periodic emails. Building the relationship and leaving the door open is critical. You never know where it might lead. That approach has paid off for me many times over the last few decades.

Remember, this process can take several months. Be patient. It's well worth the investment of time, effort and energy. You'll never know what you learn about yourself, who you'll meet and what doors will open.

Mentors are not a panacea. You still need to put in the time and the hard work. You still need to make the tough decisions and take the risks. You still need to get a lucky break. However, when you find the right fit, they can be a real multiplier and change the trajectory of your life and career.

I can't even begin to thank the countless mentors and teachers who have believed and invested in me. This list includes far too many people to mention. I have a little bit of them within me. Each one has helped accelerate my life and career in their own way. I certainly wouldn't be the person I am today without their support, belief and counsel.

I'll end with this. My Twitter friend Jamie Russo couldn't have said it any better: people propel people. It takes a village to help us grow and bring our visions to life.

We all need mentors.

Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.