Why Top Executives Won’t Mentor You
(And How To Get Them To!)
The other day, a follower wrote about how she approached the VP of her department to mentor her. From the several times they interacted, the VP made a very strong impression on her. As such, she clearly recognized the VP as someone that she could learn a lot from.
So this person made the bold move to ask the VP if she’d be willing to be her mentor. She even asked her manager to approach the VP on her behalf. Unfortunately, the VP said “no”, because of her heavy workload.I’m sure this person made every effort to explain how the mentor relationship could benefit not only her, but the company as well. But based how she described her approach, the VP’s response didn’t surprise me at all.
Your approach and expectations
for help are not realistic
People also approach me often to mentor them. Mentoring others is a commitment and responsibility that I take very seriously. It means that I’m going to genuinely help guide a person’s career development. Give him advice to resolve job and career issues. In fact, I enjoy mentoring others. But I still turn down most people. It’s not because I don’t want to help them. Like the VP, it’s because I don’t have the time.
So if you’re going to approach senior-level people for their career insights and advice, here are some inside tips I can give you. Whatever you ask them for, you want to . . .
所以，如果你想寻求公司高层的看法和建议，我可以给你一些提示。 不管你想问他们什么，你都要. . .
Keep it informal
Being a good mentor to someone implies a close relationship. So if you ask me to be your mentor before I even know you very well, it’s not likely that I’ll say, yes. In the beginning, at least, it’s too big of a commitment to expect me to make. So when first approaching someone for guidance and advice, don’t mention a mentor relationship. Don’t make me feel that I need to make a big commitment to you right away. The less formal the better.
Using this person as an example, to raise her chances of getting the VP to respond positively to her, I’d recommend that she not ask her to be a mentor from the very start.
Keep it simple and easy
Getting someone like me to respond to a couple of questions, however, well, that’s a completely different story. That’s a much simpler, easier level of response and involvement for me to help you. The less complicated the better.
So instead of asking the VP to mentor her, I’d tell this person to just think of a couple of good questions that she’d like to ask the VP. And for a couple of questions, there’s no need to approach the VP through her manager. Instead, I’d recommend that she write an email directly to the VP and let her know clearly upfront whatever it is she’d like to know from her. In her email, she could say something like, . . .
所以，与其让副总裁指导她，我更推荐她想几个好问题再去求教。几个问题就没必要让她的经理来搭线。相反，我推荐她直接发邮件给她的副总，让对方清楚地知道她想了解什么。在邮件里，她可以这样说，. . .
"As someone who I very much look up to and admire as a role model in our company, I have a couple of basic questions about my career development that I'd love to get your insights and advice on. They relate to my ability to better manage client relationships and understand what I need to do to perform better and contribute more in my role for the company.”
Keep it specific
Many people will also ask me very broad, general questions about what they want to know from me. For instance, they’ll ask, “I’d like to know more about your own career development.” Or “I’d like to know how to become more successful at this current stage of my career.”
These questions are too big. I could spend hours talking about them. But if your question or issue is more specific and more reasonable for me to respond to, there’s a much higher chance that I will. The more specific the better.
So for instance, the specific questions this person can ask the VP could be, . . .
因此，举例来说，这个人可以向副总询问的具体问题可以是， . . .
“In particular, I’d like to ask you how you deal with clients who have unreasonable requirements or unrealistic expectations. In addition, I’d like to know what were the most important things you paid attention to that helped you perform as a top sales early in your career?”
Keep it short
Most people who approach me to mentor them do so as if I have all the time in the world. I don't. But if you tell me that your questions should only take me 10 minutes or less to respond to them, there's a 10x better chance that I will. The less time it takes me the better.
So this person should also let the VP know clearly that responding to her won't take much of her time or effort. For instance,
“I recognize how very busy you are. I believe that your response to these two questions should only take 10 minutes or less of your time. And I can either give you a call, or come by your office, whichever and whenever is most convenient for you.”
“Thanks so much for your consideration and time regarding you’re your response to my two questions. I look forward to hearing back from you at your convenience.”
By the way, don't ever expect or ask busy people to respond to you in writing. While this may be convenient for you, it requires even more time and effort for them.
Getting others to mentor you
without being your mentor
The reality is, the more senior the person, the busier and less accessible they are. So if you’re going to reach out to high-level people, don’t ask them for too much. Keep your requests informal, simple and easy, specific, and short. The more they feel these about your request, the more likely they'll respond to it.
Do this 2-3 times. Each time they respond to you, express your appreciation to them. It makes us feel good. And when you have some additional questions that you could really use their insights and advice on, use the same approach to present your questions. Even if someone doesn’t say that she’s mentoring you, if she’s responding to your questions, that’s basically what she’s doing.
Once you’ve built a closer connection, where the senior-level person knows you better and has a good impression of you, then you can try approaching her to see if she’s willing to be your mentor. At that time, your chances of her saying “yes” to your mentor request will be significantly higher. As someone with limited time who needs to be selective about who I mentor, I can assure you of this.
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