In high school, I was a classic troublemaker: I skipped class, failed grade 8, and eventually dropped out altogether. I somehow convinced a top university to accept me to their business program — but then I dropped out of that, too. I just wasn't made for the classroom.
Even though I never finished business school, running a business made me realize that you don't need a formal education to go far. If you tap the minds of successful people, you'll gain exclusive access to expertise and lessons learned. People who leverage mentors are more successful than those who don't. That's why I created my own MBA, or Mentor Board of Advisors. They're people who had the hands-on experience and knowledge to steer me in the right direction.
With a few simple networking tips, you can create an MBA of your own. Here's how.
Tip 1: Ask and You Shall (Most Likely) Receive
A mentor should be someone with the skills, abilities and career path that you aspire to achieve yourself. For me, one of those people was Subway co-founder Fred DeLuca. The first time I saw him at a conference, I was totally starstruck. Instead of shying away, I seized the opportunity to learn from the man behind one of the world's largest franchise systems.
I told him I was a fan, and confided that I was having trouble franchising 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. I was dumbfounded when he handed me his personal cell number and encouraged me to reach out anytime. For the next 15 years (until sadly, he passed away), I took him up on the generous offer time and time again. Having him as a mentor transformed the trajectory of our business.
It goes to show that you never know what you'll get unless you ask. It doesn't matter what industry or position you're in — all it takes is a little confidence and a handshake to initiate a relationship that can last a lifetime.
Tip 2: The More the Merrier
The mentor-mentee relationship doesn't have to be like Luke and Obi-Wan: one-on-one, intense and exclusive. In fact, opening yourself up to multiple mentors will give you a more well-rounded wealth of knowledge than if you stick to only one.
To build up your mentor roster, start attending seminars and talks by people who inspire you. Not only will you learn from the speaker; you have the chance to learn from your peers, too. Everyone brings a unique set of skills to the table. Honing in on one person will cut you off from the expertise of another. So keep your options open — after all, mentorship is about broadening perspectives, not limiting them.
Tip 3: Respect Your Mentor's Time
The problem with good mentors is that they're in high demand. In today's culture of busyness, people simply don't have extra hours to chat with everyone who asks. It's important to respect that your desired mentor is likely extremely busy. When you reach out, be realistic about what you'll get.
Instead of asking for a lunch meeting, propose a 15-minute phone call. Be specific about what you want to talk about, whether it's hiring practices, productivity tips or something else you admire about this person. Remember their time is precious (as is yours), so make the most of every interaction.
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