Mentorship is the key to career success

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Throughout my career, I had the good fortune to have great mentors. These mentors saw something in me that I myself didn’t. They made me who I am today.

There was one time when I was struggling to hit my sales targets. Weeks of late nights with no results. A 2 hour dinner with my mentor turned things around. In the next quarter, I won “Best Rookie”

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that everyone have a mentor.

Here’s how I got my mentors.

Find People To Admire

Before you go searching for a mentor, first understand your endgame.

What success do you want in 10 years? Who are the people who you know personally, who you want to be in 10 years.

Don’t blindly admire people who you don’t know. Every celebrity on social media potrays perfection. Don’t believe it. Deep down, they have their demons.

Only admire people who you know personally.

Why Do You Admire Them?

Now that you have a short list of people whom you admire, ask yourself, what do you admire about them?

Is it how driven they are? Or how they’re able to lead so well?

What is it about them that you so badly want to emulate?

Use this as a guiding light to seek out the right mentors, who can help you gain those skills.

Give Before You Receive

Some of my clients are CXOs of large SGX companies.

One showed me his public email inbox. It was filled with hundreds of requests for his time / attention / money.

It was embarrassing how self-centred these people were.

Imagine getting this email: “I don’t know you but I want you to give me some of your time to coach me”

Who would respond to that?

You need to give first. Only then can you ask for reciprocation.

Know What To Give

What can you give to someone who’s so senior and smart?

The answer – Information.

There must be some insight you have, of something important, that you can share.

Even better if this insight is related to the person’s area of interest / career.

Give that information away. Be useful.

Build a relationship!

Be Humble

These days, when I mentor people, I sometimes come across people who seem very eager to learn from me.

They put such learning above all else, including their immediate comfort.

I find such people wonderful to help, and very psychologically rewarding.

They inspire me.

I revel in meeting them. I enjoy being their mentor.

Be humble. Be energetic. Make yourself enjoyable to be around.

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Stability or Speed?

I once had a friend, Joseph, share this story with me.

Joseph had a great offer to take up this more senior position at a competitor.

His immediate boss, and coach, urged him to accept the position. After much deliberation though, he rejected the offer.

Joseph explained to his coach and wife that he wasn’t ready to “cash in” on his talents. He was learning at an incredible rate working under his current boss and didn’t want it to stop.

Joseph’s boss and coach understood this.

He made an analogy to tricycles and bicycles. Tricycles are stable; that was the senior position on offer at the competitor. But nobody sets speed records on tricycles. Bicycles are unstable; they will fall over if you ever stop. But if you are willing to put up with a degree of insecurity, then you can go fast and far.

Attracting the Mentor Who’s Right For You

My feeling is that we are all surrounded by potential mentors. If you show that you really want to learn from someone, and put that learning above your own immediate short-term interests — higher salary, promotions, increased security — then you can trigger their instinct to want to have a student.

When you pass on what you know to someone else, you are enjoying a kind of immortality, and that is wonderful.

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Russel Yee

Former Headhunter

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