How to Ask for Mentoring Help

Secrets of Mentoring Success

Think of your next mentoring relationship as a pilot program, one with a laser focus on a singular goal that requires a modest commitment on your mentor’s part. Start small and build on your successes with your mentor.


secrets to mentoring success blog imageHistory has it that in October of 1962,The Beatles (then quite unknown) were the opening act for the already-famous Little Richard, one of their heroes. They asked him how to cover his songs, and he happily mentored them.

They could have asked him how he became famous, or for connections to a great agent, or a long-term mentoring relationship. Instead, they focused on something short-term, concrete, and game changing. In learning how to cover those songs over a period of days, they built on a growing skill set and connected one more important piece of the puzzle. They used that knowledge to leverage their careers, to great effect, I might add.

Over the past few weeks, I have recommended a set of steps to establish a mentoring relationship:

  1. Define your long-term business or career goals
  2. Establish your mentor success criteria
  3. Narrow your mentor focus to one game changing goal
  4. Determine the best places to find a great mentor
  5. Start with existing relationships

This week, let’s review the tricky final step: What to say, and what not to say.

We may never know the precise conversation that took place between Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starr, and Little Richard, but I can tell you a few likely ingredients to include in your “secret sauce.”

It’s well known that The Beatles had an overwhelming drive to get better at their craft. They were genuine in their admiration for Little Richard. They put in hundreds and hundreds of hours at pitiful wages for a chance to play and get better. How can you channel that type of drive and authenticity?

Once you have decided whom to approach for a pilot or “micro-coaching” commitment, the conversation could go like this:

“I have admired your skills in building strategic alliances and wonder if you would be willing to set up a brief call to brainstorm on a puzzle I am trying to solve.” Explain to your potential mentor why strategic alliances are important now, and how their advice could help you finish your current project.

Set a brief time limit on your initial call, such as 10 – 15 minutes. If the call goes well, and your prospective mentor seems engaged, ask to meet for coffee. ¬†Have a specific goal for that meeting as well. “I am hoping you can help me take the next steps in navigating a challenging situation with some strategic alliances.”

Once at the meeting, respect your mentor prospect’s time. Look for opportunities for mutual benefit. How can you help him? Be prepared to articulate the specific challenges you are experiencing. How are you hoping she can help?

If your rapport is good, have the courage to ask if he is available for further check-in calls on a periodic basis. Be prepared to hear “no” and accept that answer gracefully, if necessary. Be prepared to put in the hours necessary to take her advice.

What Not to Say:

  • Don’t ask for the opportunity to “pick their brain” (That sounds so painful!)
  • Don’t begin with a big ask, such as a weekly meeting
  • Don’t ask for unearned favors, such as the inside track on a competitive opportunity

Gauge the success of the relationship honestly and take steps to nurture winning outcomes for everyone. Starting small with a modest goal can help you build trust and, eventually, the deep roots that ensure an enduring relationship.