How NOT To Find A Mentor
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

I often get this question:

How do I find a mentor?

My answer?

Don’t look for one.

Here’s why:

Leaders don’t spend their lives; they INVEST them in who and what most align with their intentional purposes.

And the word “mentor” carries a formality to it, a commitment to a set of expectations that CHALLENGE a leader’s investment.

So when a leader gets asked to mentor you, they start running through their investment grid:. 

  • Does this relationship align with my purpose, what I have said “yes” to?
  • Is this worth the time exchange?
  • Is this the best use of my energy, resources and giftedness?

And often the answer is NO.

Because the bar of formal “mentorship” is too high.

So how do you lower that bar?

Instead of seeking mentors, seek Serving Conversations.

A conversation is a much easier task than a formal mentorship.

I have a number of people that mentor me, and they don’t know it, because I never used the M-word.

But I am receiving the benefit of their mentorship because I pursue Serving Conversations.

What is a Serving Conversation?

A Serving Conversation is a conversation that serves the OTHER person before, during, and after the conversation.

Here is how that works:

Serve in how you seek them FOR the conversation.

1.  Clarify what you are looking for..

Consider the difference between: “I need someone to mentor me.” and, “I need someone to…

  • help me gauge my level of risk in this start up
  • show me how to parent my now-adult kids
  • advise me on how to open a second location
  • direct me towards increasing my income
  • improve my speaking skills

Be specific in what you are looking for–don’t depend on the mentor to do the work for you.

2. Identify WHO has what you want.

  • Who has the risk-reward level you want?
  • Who is parenting their adult kids right (or seems to have gone through the challenge with them you are facing)?
  • Who has the clients you would love to work with?
  • Who has opened a second location?
  • Who has the income, the influence, the impact, the satisfaction in their work that you want?

Thinking this way has two benefits:

 1.  You may realize you are not looking for ONE person to address multiple questions, but multiple people to help you in ONE question each.


2.  When you have clarity on WHAT you are looking for and WHO is the kind of person you want to talk to, you can start to work your network to ask, “Who do you know that I should talk to?”

3.  Reach out to them in ways that work best for them.

You serve them when you make this conversation an easy “yes.”  

An easy Yes for me is when someone:

  • Was introduced to me by someone I trust.
  • Expresses understanding of what I do and what I offer.
  • Reaches out with a clear reason and question (“I would like 45 minutes with you to pick your brain about how I can do X.”).
  • Doesn’t bring me a report of what they have done, but brings me a question about something they are considering–I want to influence your future.
  • Asks me the best way to schedule time/location with me, and adjusts THEIR schedule to that.

Serve them in how you honor them DURING the conversation.

You honor someone when you demonstrate that you value their time.  Here are some ways:

  • Show up early, grab a table, maybe even text them as to their coffee preference and have it waiting for them.  You just saved 5-10 valuable minutes.
  • Come prepared.  Have you been on their website, read their book?  Did they already answer your question in some resource or presentation?   
  • State your intention.  “Thanks for meeting with me.  As I mentioned in my email, I wanted to ask you to help me X with Y.”
  • Take notes.
  • Listen more than you speak.  Did you want to meet to talk AT them, or hear FROM them?  
  • End on time.
  • BONUS: Honor their connections by asking, “Who else would you recommend I speak to?” and “Would you be willing to connect us?”  

Serve them in how you follow through AFTER the conversation.

You were given the gift of someone’s investment–how can you show appreciation and value?

  • Send a brief note or email, capturing some of your takeaways from the conversation (Leaders love impact–how did they impact YOU?). 
  • Did they recommend a book or resource?  Suggest a course of action?  Give you a name.  They gave you a gift–treat it like $1000 cash and do something with it.  When you take that action, let them know the outcome. 
  • Keep considering how you can serve them.  Can you refer someone to them?  Is there someone you think of that could add value to them? Recently someone I met with followed up and offered to help me make sure my emails were not going to spam–that’s a practical service to me.
  • Consider the appropriate timetable for reaching back out.  Ask them: “I’d appreciate the chance to reach out again with another question sometime…what would that look like for you?”

A Serving Conversation could have three great outcomes for you:

  • That conversation could address the issue you are facing.
  • That conversation could spark an introduction to a person who would be a better fit.
  • That conversation could actually lead to an ongoing relationship, a “backdoor mentor.”

Whatever the outcome, if you are willing to approach a leader with the intentionality to SERVE them, you WILL find wisdom to keep you moving forward.

Thomas helps leaders navigate what’s next in their leadership, teams, and lives.  If he can serve you in this, reach out to him HERE.

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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