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What Do Oprah, Justin Timberlake, Barack Obama and Bob Marley Have in Common?

career advice
Trajan King
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Published on November 24, 2014

They all have mentors that have influenced and shaped their success (Maya Angelou, Pharrell Williams, Michelle Robinson and Joe Higgs, respectively).  Successful people often credit their success to the help of a mentor.  In fact, most hugely successful people have mentors, going back to Plato who taught Aristotle who in turn taught Alexander the Great.

Even the world’s richest people have mentors.  When Warren Buffett was 21 he became the mentee of economist Benjamin Graham who would teach him skills that would allow him to become the most famous investor in the world (and one of the richest on Earth).

Before Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft they worked for Dr. Ed Roberts, who was the inventor of the Altair 8800, which sparked the computer revolution.  The two wrote software for the Altair which would inspire them to later found Microsoft.

Not yet convinced?  Check out this list of famous people who had mentors:

  • Andy Grove mentor to Steve Jobs

  • Don Graham mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

  • Steve Jobs mentor to Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com

  • Madonna is a mentor to Gwyneth Paltrow

  • Audrey Hepburn mentor to Elizabeth Taylor

  • Adam Farrar mentor to Leonardo DiCaprio

  • Tom Sharpin mentor to Russell Crowe

  • George Mason mentor to Thomas Jefferson (3rd President of the US)

  • Gopal Krishna Gokhale mentor to Mahatma Gandhi

  • Mahatma Gandhi mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Mahatma Gandhi mentor to Nelson Mandela

See more famous mentors here.

Why You Should Have a Mentor

My first job after college was working for a tech consulting firm in Silicon Valley.  I worked with a lot of big companies like eBay, Cisco, Oracle and IBM.  It was a big job for someone right out of college. My boss was my first exposure to mentorship and I learned so much in a short amount of time that I have made it a point to always have a mentor, no matter how busy or successful I get.  My mentors have taught me, inspired me and connected me and you should have a mentor too!

Some of the things you can learn from a mentor include:

  • Learn new skills – they can teach you how to do something because they’ve already done it.

  • Accountability – like in school, if you have a deadline and someone to answer to, you’ll get the assignment done.

  • Networking – introductions to other people who can help you. Mentors are great for opening doors.

  • Goal setting – working with someone can help you set goals, be inspired to achieve them and accountable to reach them.

  • Idea generating – brainstorming new ideas is one of the best ways to get started or to get out of a rut.

  • Inspire – associating with someone who has already done what you aspire to do can be encouraging and motivating and much easier than trying to do it alone.

What to Look for in Mentor

Your time is valuable so you want to work with a mentor that is going to be most beneficial to you, so there are a few things to look for in a mentor.

  • Experience in your industry – you want someone who has already taken the journey you’re on.  If you want to be a successful dentist, an attorney isn’t going to be much help. Choose someone who is several levels “above” you. Don’t choose one of your peers. We are the sum of the 5 closest people in our circle so associate yourself with successful people you aspire to be like.

  • Willingness to give – choose someone who has a positive attitude about giving back.

  • Connections – the more people your contact knows, the more likely it is that he can introduce you to others who can guide you. Hermits don’t make good mentors.

How to Find a Mentor

Gandhi had a mentor and was in turn a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.  Gandhi’s mentor was Dadabhai Naoroji, who was instrumental in starting the Indian Independence Movement.  In 1888, he wrote to Naoroji, “…you will, therefore oblige me greatly if you will kindly direct and guide me and make necessary suggestions which shall be received as from a father to his child.”  It’s interesting that what Gandhi did was very simple. He was humble enough to ask for help.  Don’t be intimidated to approach someone super successful.  Those are the people who may have the most to teach.

Make a list of 5 people you think fit the criteria above and give them a call and tell them you’d love their advice, tell them you don’t want anything from them, that you’re not selling anything, but just want to ask for their advice.  Successful people are usually willing to help others as long as they know the commitment is fairly low and expectations are clear.  Just ask to meet them for lunch once a month.  Start small and build a relationship to see if it’s the right fit.  It doesn’t have to be formal or time-consuming.  Make it easy for them to say “yes”.

If you don’t know anyone who you’d like to be your mentor, start networking. Go to events where successful people in your field are and meet new people.  When starting new relationships, don’t ask for anything. Focus just on giving and creating value for other people.

This will build a relationship much faster and they’ll see you as a person who is trustworthy and valued.  It’s just like dating.  You wouldn’t go in for a kiss right away. That would scare someone off. You need to build trust and show value.

Remember no matter how successful you are, there’s always someone cooler than you that you can learn from, so go find someone who has already taken the journey you’re about to embark on.

“No matter what you might do, There’s always someone out there cooler than you” – Ben Folds

Trajan King

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