How do you find a life-changing mentor?

Mike Whitfield Sr. Software Engineer, EPAM, Google

September 12th, 2015

There are many talented people out there.  There are many people that will run you in circles to accomplish nothing.  There are some who know you'll never achieve what they have, so you'll run through their maze until you've given them the value they want.  These aren't the people I'm talking about.

I've identified advisers for my business that function as mentors, but these are people that aren't motivated to mold somebody.  They have made a lot of money already and don't have the spark, or they are retired and focused on not engaging too much in professional life anymore.

I want to know, how did you find your mentor?  Mentors, I want to know, what was the journey to finding your most valued mentees?

Maybe it's at a church or religious group, through a business network, or through family or friends.  I'd love to hear a story, there's no silver bullet to this.

Peter Johnston Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.

September 14th, 2015

There is a very simple answer here - you inspire them.

A mentor will only spend time with you, if you seem worth the effort. That means not only having a similar mindset, but showing that you are listening to and building on their ideas and moving forward, both in personal development and in the project(s) you are collaborating on.

This is a key reason why organised mentoring rarely works - it is seen as a chore by both parties. And when something is a chore you do less of it, find an excuse to put it off or fail to put time aside to do it well.

David Sr Cloud-First AI Deep Learning Video Security Executive

September 15th, 2015

This is a really cool topic... I'll try to weigh in with my own experience.

My first mentor was when I was a young man around high school age... a locally acclaimed architectural photographer in Las Vegas where I grew around 1980ish.

The way we met - One of my friends family owned a color print lab and I was always bugging everyone about trying to learn stuff. He sort of took me under his wing and hired me to assist on photo shoots. In photography and video production they call the the 'Grip' - which likely has something to do with 'Grip' Tape name...

Anyway... Carl was a genius with black and white film. He had used 35mm, medium format hasselblad was his favorite, and also did 4x5 and even 8x10 shoots for high end projects. For those of you not knowing about architectural sizes these sizes refer to the FILM size not the print size. You know... like the photographer with the cloak over the camera in those old photos... well they still use those. :)

In any case... point is it was a fascinating experience to learn from someone that took the time to create a professional mentor to 'student' bond.

Since that young age I have always paid close attention to those in my life and tried to be receptive to help and guidance similar to what Carl had instilled in me as that young man that I was.

I have found at certain points in my life that even if I met a mentor, I would have missed the opportunity because I was simply not in a position to be receptive to the vibes that were being presented.

Now in my life I find I'm being mentored and guided by all kinds of people of all walks of life you might never imagine as a 'mentor'.

I find that when I shut up and listen and put myself in another person's shoes and take the time to get to know their story... I really learn a lot.

I forget the movie I think pulp fiction where they ask something like "If someone is saying something are you listening, or thinking about what you want to say?"

The key in life and finding mentors is simply listening. Listen enough and you'll know which potential mentor you'd like to listen to more.
That's one of your mentors, stay in touch with him/her. :)

Ankita Tyagi

September 13th, 2015

As someone who has met tons of advisors / mentors - I will add that most of them intend well. Personally, for me it is a combination of integrity, expertise, and genuine alignment of purpose. Intentions and belief do not make a company.
It should not be self-fulfilling. Parties should come together for a common goal in mind. Also, a real mentor doesn't care about the title or its anointment...they just are and they just do. Similar to a leader - he / she just is and just does.

In an ideal world, we would have just one mentor who would grow with us, our aspirations (personal and professional) but that is not the case, unless you refer to your 'conscious'.
 In my opinion, if you are like me you'll have lots of different people who will play a very specific role at a certain time in life and / or stage of the company.
For instance, right now I am looking for product development guidance in mobile banking space from someone who has perhaps tried launching a product in recent times or has a product out in the market. Their insight will be more reflective of the times we live in, as they are more likely to be familiar with key APIs, security concerns, UX / UI.

Having said that, there is tremendous value in wisdom stemming from experience. Financial analysis, equity structuring, founder agreement, board duties and compensation - personally, I would go with an experienced professional, as David mentions. Someone who has been there, done that and is aware of the optimal outcome.

Jason Mathew Product Analyst at CEB TalentNeuron

September 12th, 2015

It takes a certain type of personality to draw me in; I've always been sensitive to these types of individuals, and pursued every opportunity to either validate or challenge my initial assumptions and conclusions. Whether it's been at work, at church, or by riding the metro: I always keep an open mind when I meet someone new,  but am quick to realize (via unique tell-tale signs) whether or not the people I encounter truly care. For example, I've been working in Corporate America for the last two years, and have always found time to ask someone out to grab coffee or a meal. I don't care if they're an entry-level associate or an Executive Director, what matters is if they care enough to say 'yes.' If they do, then subsequent conversations are going to be the true key to whether or not there's potential. I realize that this can be very unique to me, but my winning formula has always been making myself vulnerable, and putting it all out there. If they embrace it, accept it, and want more, then I automatically know there's true potential in the relationship. 

Mike Whitfield Sr. Software Engineer, EPAM, Google

September 15th, 2015

I posted this after observing that many people possess the skill to run a business -- there seems to be only a slight difference for those that successfully run and manage a business.  Maybe it was a family member (like an uncle) or a good mentor.  Someone told them, "this is possible, you can do it!" without too many strings attached and with enough realism to hold weight.

Personally, I had the experience early on as a mentee in the world of coding.  This propelled me forward very quickly without me understanding this was happening.  My mentor was forced to keep himself sharp on the topics of code as a result.  I got to receive a lot of that knowledge and had many opportunities to apply what I was learning.

My model for meeting people had to change as I went through university and I was forced to be more than an online username.  The approach of instantaneous information access does not work in the real world in the time that healthful relationships are built. :)

I've attempted to participate in organized code mentoring myself, but this has been experimental.  I've been seeking someone, I suppose, that has the same business dispositions and extroversion that I do alongside the technical expertise.

For instance, I recently attempted to get an NSF grant, and apparently presented myself all wrong.  I've had a totally failed marketing connection by way of not knowing how to properly ensure my technology is even ready for market.  I'm clueless about paying bills in the interim while I figure this all out.  I'm happy to discuss these challenges more in PM!

David Still Founder of Start-ups, Entrepreneur, Financier and Advisor

September 13th, 2015

Dear Mike,

Real, value-added mentors are professionals who have learned from their own 'personal' genuine experience. I think purely academically-learned entrepreneurship is an oxymoron. They tend to be older, wiser and are not professional consultants or advisors because they have experienced most of the good and evil in founding and starting businesses, as well as learning from their mistakes not their successes. Albert Einstein advises us that "The only source of learning is experience." And, Bill Gates suggests "Its fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure." Value-added mentors have decade of experience and mistakes, mixed with successes. They have seen almost everything. They tend to have learned that, among other infinite details:

1. Creating a startup is like running a business but ten times more difficult. Existing businesses know where they are strong and weak because they have some history. New businesses do not. Existing businesses have had time to tweak their marketing strategies based on successes and failures. New businesses have not. Existing businesses have supplier and distribution networks in place. New businesses do not. Existing businesses know which products and services to offer, bundle, or eliminate. New businesses do not. And perhaps most importantly, existing businesses have positive cash flow based on product sales. New businesses do not. (Tony Robinson, The Value of an Education in Entrepreneurship, at on February 20, 2015)

2. Founders, builders and leaders of new businesses do not experience their professional, personal, ethical, creative and spiritual lives as separate worlds; their worlds become enduringly intertwined and holistic, and the coalescing is inexorable and has no clear end point.They are not prepared for the extraordinarily difficult, sometimes impossible and hard-ball, job of continually being asked to know more, do more, be more, and be mentally and emotionally prepared in all aspects of life -- a complex, multidimensional balancing act. Success depends on holistic life disciplines. (author)

3. Founders of start-ups need to how learn how to learn how to not sign founding agreements/covenants that set them up to be terminated and/or fail, and developing a precognition about their holistic surroundings.

4. Most of all real mentors will tell you truth. Real mentors are under agreement with specificdeliverablesand paid, generally on an annual retailer, by the founder not the company or by the company as an contracted employee benefit - being sure there is no incorporation clause in your employment agreement Most investors want to be your mentor but they have conflicting objectives. If the company pays, then the Mentor's "duty" is to the company and not the founder/ceo. Almost half of founder/ceos are terminated by the company's Board before the 3rdround of financing. A large number of them just quit from the holistic stress. (These are researched facts)

Under very select circumstances I serve as a mentor - only if I think (I can help you. We live in a world of pitches and sound bites. You must dig into the details, meet, have detailed dialogue and meet with a potential mentor before engaging her/him.

I could go on and on - you need a pro. I had great success and great failure. I wish I knew then what I know now. "What they neverteachyou at Wharton."

Good luck, David

PS Board Members have a legal duty to the company and not you, so they may have good intentions to be mentors but when things get tough you come after the company.

PPS: "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on."Samuel Goldwyn.


September 15th, 2015

Its very tough to find a mentor with all qualities, such as for religious purposes religious ones, for fitness a coach, for life hacking a different one. And your mentor is not always right, he can show you the path but at the end of the day It is you who have to make the decision to move forward on which direction. 

Peter Johnston Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.

September 15th, 2015

There is this mini-me idea about mentors. 

But I like this quotation...
"If you steal from one source it is theft, if you steal from 3 it is research".

People are flawed - good in some areas, not in others. And people get confused about what makes them great.
If you are inspired by Alan Turing, does it mean you have to be gay?
If by Steve Jobs does it mean you have to be part Armenian, or adopted?

You are an amalgam of multiple people - your parents, your teachers, your friends. Why only add one more to the mix - your mentor - add lots. Find out where there are clusters of people like the ones which inspire you and go there, join or get involved. 

History shows one common denominator about top inventors and scientists - they were well connected, with friends who inspired them, not just a single mentor.

Clynton Caines SharePoint Developer at Discover Technologies

September 13th, 2015

It's important to define for yourself in what areas you want to grow. Personal mentors are often more successful than you - but like anyone else, they have very busy schedules. They often gain fulfilment and personal satisfaction from giving back, so don't be afraid to ask for an hour here and there.

The way you approach a personal mentor is to respect their time (and yours) by finding out when might be good to connect. Then at the agreed upon time, you show up or call (on time) prepared with your questions. What you want here is for these successful people (retired or not) to share some of their wisdom with you. Successful outcomes are ones where you become more confident, avoid mistakes and take better advantage of opportunities - while your peers are stuck trying to understand them.

Professional mentors help you on company time, so before you call, you need to have your ducks in a row... to limit the size of the bills :) Professionals are best suited to the task of growing your business. That's their desire and focus - for which they are well paid (especially when successful). Retired execs/successful entreps are not right for this role - and by trying to shoehorn them into it, you destroy valuable relationships.

You should seek the courage to ask personal mentors to help with personal growth, the money to pay professional mentors to grow your business, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Good Luck!

Peter Johnston Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.

September 17th, 2015

One of the things which give mentors a bad name is stuff like this (see below)...

Last chance - really?
Just name-dropping to people gullible enough to think that cogs in big company wheels know more than everyone else. Part of the "being picked" culture.

It also uses the totally outdated concept of "leaders" (when you scaled companies by adding people, leadership was important but things changed in the 1930s - now you scale a company through data and running small teams of people and machines together is the core skill)

Irresponsible event salespeople!!!
And horrendously egotistical "executives" to lend their names to such an event!


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