Mentoring is critically important to going anywhere with your career, giving you the guidance you simply can't get out of a book. Look outside your door, though. Pretty sure you don't have people lining up like in Mary Poppins, competing for the chance to be your personal sage. What gives, and how can you turn it around?

Why potential mentors turn their backs

1. Busy, busy, so very busy

Mentoring isn't just something you do as you brush your teeth. You may be poring over materials or papers, traveling, or spending hours a week discussing projects. That doesn't have fantastic appeal when people already are working overtime, struggle to have quality time with family, and, quite frankly, have their own pursuits they'd like to use free time on. People tell you no first and foremost because they honestly don't feel like they can handle everything else plus the distraction of you.

2. No proof

When you ask someone to mentor you, the first thing that runs through their head is, "Why? What evidence can you give me this isn't going to be one gigantic waste?" Most people can't answer that question. They haven't done their homework and aren't specific about what they need, and they have nothing to show a potential mentor to prove that they're serious or can help the mentor meet their own goals.

3. Misunderstood dues

Let's be clear about this one. Mentors don't owe you anything, and there are no shortcuts when it comes to having them school you. The minute you assume you're entitled to their time, insights, and resources, the minute you start demanding immediate results when only patience will produce good fruit, you're done. Confidence is one thing. Arrogance and conceit are another.

4. Internal conflicts

Most people know they are "supposed" to mentor. But in an age when authenticity is on a pedestal, they might not feel good about saying yes if they're not confident about what they can offer, or if they know that mentoring isn't going to make them feel any better about themselves. And if the mentor doesn't know you very well--which is often the case when you're throwing proverbial darts at the big names in your industry--you haven't established trust that can make the mentor open up.

How to turn no to yes

Given the above, you can't force a mentor relationship. The worst thing you can do is bluntly ask someone to be your teacher and make it feel contractual. Instead, let the relationship develop organically. Share nifty insights. Ask how they're doing. Go for coffee. Help them out when you know they're overwhelmed. Make a friend. Then, and only then, will the potential mentor feel that contributing to you is natural and ripe with the unspoken promise of reciprocation.

Once you have a foundation of friendship to work on, show you've got a real plan. Lay out exactly when you could meet logistically, for example, or what tools you've considered to collaborate easily with. Be clear about what it's going to take to finish and when that finish is going to happen. Express gratitude whenever it's appropriate, and without resorting to transparently fabricated flatteries, make sure the mentor knows why you picked them. And lastly, be passionately persistent. Don't walk away just because the mentor can't work with you until a month later, for example. Keep working on your relationship and getting your continued interest in their work across. Unobtrusively check in with a brief, occasional email or phone call and, if you can, make convenient appointments you consistently show up to.

People want to give back. But you need to make it easy to do, including helping them past psychological and logistical hurdles that are thrust in their faces. Once you start showing that effort, you'll get the response you want and the guidance you need.

Published on: Jul 26, 2018
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