Steve Jobs was perhaps the most prolific entrepreneur in modern times. Yet even the tech genius didn’t do it all on his own. He needed a mentor — someone to confide in, to ask advice and from which to gain an outside perspective. Jobs’ mentor, Andy Grove, was even instrumental in Jobs’ decision to return to Apple as CEO in 2000.
But it’s not just Steve Jobs. Entrepreneurs and businesspeople took up a LinkedIn series to thank their mentors.
As we look forward to 2016, finding a good mentor and cultivating that relationship may be the single best thing that any entrepreneur can do. Here’s how.
Step 1: How to find a mentor
Find someone you admire. The only way to do that is to be active and visible in your industry, learning who the key thought leaders are and showing up at the right events.
My mentor is Esther Dyson, a businesswoman and investor who focuses on healthcare and digital technology. But more importantly, Esther is a great person who offers sound and honest advice when it is most needed.
I had looked up to Esther from afar for years before we first met at a healthcare conference in 2012. I followed her on social media, read everything she wrote and even added her on LinkedIn. When I found out she would be giving an address at a conference, I made it my mission to meet her. Even if it ended up being a 2-minute conversation, I was determined to absorb as much as possible while around her.
But after the speech when everyone rushed the podium, I noticed something — everyone else only wanted to talk about her business, or worse, advice she’d have for their business.
Instead, I was interested in learning about her as an individual — information that would help me understand how she became successful. So, I asked about her habit of taking a morning swim. She immediately lit up, and we connected on a personal level. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but differentiating myself from the pack was key to sparking a relationship.
Step 2: How to grow the relationship
A mentor relationship is not a business transaction — it’s a personal relationship. So it is important to be self-aware. Mentors don’t want to be constantly tapped for advice or help. A simple solution is to allow them to drive the conversation. With the right mentor, so much can be learned from just listening.
Esther and I didn’t talk business for nearly a year after first meeting, which allowed us to develop a strong personal relationship. But as I built a business and ran into challenges, those struggles naturally made it into our conversations. Recently, I asked Esther for guidance, and she not only was willing to help, but she dropped what she was doing and immediately flew to Chicago to help me figure it out — no questions asked.
Step 3: How to maintain the relationship
Just as with any friendship, creating open lines of communication is critical to a long-term relationship. A good mentor will be emotionally invested in the company’s success. Keeping mentors informed of the ups and downs of the business is important but also stay up to date with what’s going on with them. And whenever possible, just say hello!
My favorite way to do that is by sharing outside news, articles or things that Esther would find interesting. Odds are that she saw the articles already, but sharing outside news is an easy, no-pressure way to stay on her radar.
Step 4: How to help the mentor
The best thing that anyone can do for their mentor is to show them the value in their guidance. Do that by working hard and growing as an entrepreneur, and share any large wins with a mentor.
And if possible, pay it forward. Most mentors help other entrepreneurs, because they were helped at one point.
As entrepreneurs, we frequently imagine ourselves on an island, trying to survive alone. The best entrepreneurs understand this is not the case — they get mentors. After having a mentor myself, I understand why. Without Esther, some of my great successes would not have happened.