How to Ask Someone to be a Mentor

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Welcome to the People First Culture Podcast with me, Michel Falcon, where I share lessons I’ve learned and those of others on how to build a more purposeful business and career.

I think it’s widely understood that having a mentor or a coach, whatever you want to call it, whether it’s to help you improve in athletics or in your career, is something that we all want. After all, we turn to mentors and coaches to learn the things that we are trying to teach ourselves with a reduced learning curve. I’m 37 years old and I’m still asking people to be my mentor. In some cases, almost begging. I’ll be 73 years old, still asking people to teach me things, and I’ve learned a lot since I started growing my career and 2007 is when I really took it seriously that reaching out to individuals who have done it already reduces that learning curve, which means that I’ll be more successful faster. And that’s obviously a win-win. What I’ve learned is that you can only ask somebody to be a mentor if you’ve built rapport with them and if they know who you are, which could take years potentially, and I’ll give you some real life examples. One most recently.

My first mentor in 2009-ish was a gentleman named Patrick Lewis, and he’s still somebody I’m in contact and learning from today, but that just didn’t happen overnight. Or more recently, I was introduced to somebody named Drew Nieporent. That first and last name probably doesn’t mean anything to some people, but if you are in the restaurant space, you know who Drew Nieporent is. He is one of the co-founders of the famous Nobu restaurants. He also owns Batard in New York and Tribeca Grill. He’s famous, and one of my investors, Adam Franklin, reached out to me one day and said, “Would you like an introduction to Drew Nieporent so that he can maybe answer some questions that you have about growing a restaurant brand?” Now, Drew has been in restaurants for decades very successfully. Again, building Nobu and all these famous restaurants.

So one of the ways to get a mentor or somebody that you covet and having a relationship with is a strong introduction. So an easy way to go about this is if there’s an individual, let’s just call them Angela Smith, that you would love to get learnings from. Go to LinkedIn, type in Angela Smith’s name on LinkedIn, and go see if you have any mutual connections of somebody that may be able to introduce you to Angela warmly.

Let’s say you don’t have any introductions. The next way to do this is to reach out to Angela, reach out to people like Drew, and slowly start building a relationship with them. Many of these individuals are on Instagram or active on some sort of social media platform. So the first thing you can do is ensure that you comment on their posts, make sure you like and engage with the content that they’re putting out there. I would even recommend turning on their notifications so that when they post something, you will be notified and you can be one of the first to comment. Once they start seeing your name, time and time again, and make sure you do this in the right fashion. You don’t want to come across too strong, if you will, because I’ve had that done to me before, and I can tell you, it can make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, but do this properly. They post out a piece of content, comment, engage with them because you know that they have their eyes on this, even if they have a social media manager operating their social media for them.

So you’ve got to build a rapport, get an introduction. Now that, like I said, could take quite a bit of time. With my example of my introduction to Drew, it didn’t take a whole lot of time because Adam opened that door for me, which I’m very thankful for. But if you’re going to go down the path of commenting on their social media, reaching out to them via email, prepare for many, many months, maybe even years before they’ll give you an opportunity to sit down with them. Here’s what most people mess up.

Once you do get this individual’s attention, always meet them on their preferred day and time of choice. You don’t get to call the shots. It’s whenever they are available, come prepared for the meeting. I’ll give you an example. Before I met Drew the first time, I sent him my questions in advance so that he could prepare himself. Now, whether he did or not, I’m not too sure, but at least it shows my diligence and my respect for his time. So in the email I said, “Hey, Drew, I’ll see you at this location at four o’clock like you requested. Just so you know, these are the three questions I’m going to be asking you in person.” So again, it allows him to prepare himself, or at least shows that I’m respecting his time.

Next, you must show up on time and meet them where they ask you to meet them. Don’t go and try to make it on your accord or what’s convenient for you? No, you go, that might mean you have to jump on a flight and if it’s worth it for you, you will.

Next, how do you take that conversation that you have with them and circle back? So for example, with Drew, after my meeting with him for the first time, I sent him an email and just said, “Hey, thank you so much. You were able to answer all my questions. I really appreciate your time, and next time I’m in New York, do you mind if I reach out to you again, and if you’re available, could I come meet you again for 15 minutes?” That is one of the important things. Make it time bound. If you’re going to ask somebody, somebody to mentor you or to answer your questions, what does it even mean? How much time do you want? You want 90 minutes. Nobody’s going to say yes to that by the way. Make it different. Seven minutes. I only need seven minutes of your time. I need nine minutes. I need 15 minutes. And use that time well. It helps you stand out. That’s a very low commitment for the mentor, but you got to make it time-bound.

Here’s the last piece. You have to ask yourself what’s in it for them? For somebody like Drew, I’m not aware of anything that I could teach him. He knows everything about restaurants that I’m trying to learn from him, so I had to think about a nice gesture or appreciation. In my conversation with him, I learned that he is a lifelong New York Rangers hockey fan. So I took that information. I went online. I typed in New York Rangers, 1994, Stanley Cup signed Jersey. I found a signed jersey from the players on that team that year. I purchased it, I had it framed, and I sent it over to Drew’s office. Now, costs a little bit of money, but money that I was very happy to exhaust because the education Drew gives me is my real world MBA. That is how you ask people to be a mentor. Go out, write these notes down, share this video or this podcast with anybody that you think could use a great mentor this year. I’ll see you on the next video and podcast.

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