Do as I say, not as I do…
You’ve heard it.
It’s a cliche.
But it’s not reality.
Has that phrase ever worked for anyone? A parent? A boss?
From birth, humans are incredible mimics. Babies see what they’re parents do and copy it. They watching and learn to walk. They listen and learn to talk.
Watch a toddler. You’ll often think, “Where did they learn that?”, but you only have to look at the parents or close friends and family to get the answer.
And that doesn’t really change as we become adults. We learn best by watching the actions of others.
Perhaps the cliche we should really pay attention to is:
Actions speak louder than words.
Anyway, what does this have to do with mentors?
Mentors are great for business leaders. Read just about any biography of successful people and you’ll hear them talk about people they looked up to.
Often people that mentored them. That they had a relationship with.
But many times the situation will be admiration from afar. Not hero worship, but a person examining successful people and using their lessons as a guide to what a makes for a successful life.
If you can find a person to mentor you then go for it. It’s great to have that kind of relationship. And many people are willing to have that kind of relationship, to commit that kind of time.
But you don’t need that kind of relationship.
Here are some tips for getting advice from mentors without actually meeting one in person.
1. Look For Results
Many leaders talk a good game. Well, I shouldn’t say many.
Some are just very vocal about their success. And they may very well be successful.
But you have to be careful with vocal leaders. They could be just talking a big game, but the bottom line always comes down to results. And especially long-term results.
When you’re looking for a person to emulate and glean wisdom from you want to focus on leaders that have a proven track record. Those that not only have good ideas, but ideas that have succeeded in the past.
2. Offer Your Services
A recurring theme I’ve learned from reading biographies of successful people is they often start at the bottom. They get their foot in the door with their eye on the top.
Some have very little patience for working their way up.
They certainly do the work that they need to do to work to the top, but they take it another step.
For example, a person might start in the mail room, but they’re looking for every opportunity to connect with people higher up in the organization. They’re looking to get in on projects. They’re looking to help out, even in small ways. And often for free.
Many successful people have done things for free just to get on the radar of successful people. That kind of access allows two opportunities.
One, an opportunity to observe how successful people operate.
Two, an opportunity to get the person to notice you and your hard work. But that’s not required. You can learn a lot just by working (no matter how small a role) with successful people.
3. Go Where They Go
One of my first jobs when I was a teenager was working in the bag room at a country club. Obviously not a glamorous job. I would wipe golf clubs with a wet dish cloth and stick my hand out for spare dollars that the members had.
But I loved that job.
I had incredible access to successful people. Business leaders. Lawyers. Doctors. Everybody.
I would eavesdrop on their conversations. I envied the caddies. They had even more access…whether they realized it or not.
Now I partake in a weekly golf league. I love golf, but I also love listening to the conversations around me.
4. Work For Them
This builds on the previous point about offering your services.
But let’s take it back a step.
Instead of offering your services for a project or something like that you can just work for the company and observe what’s going on around you.
You can gain quite a bit of knowledge from working in the organization even if you’re several steps below the person in charge; the person you admire and aspire to be.
Listen to how people talk about the company and the person you’re looking to for advice. You probably can see how they interact with the team.
There are lots of opportunities to learn how to (and how not to) deal with situations.
5. Work For The Competition
The same is true for the competition.
Let’s say you want to learn from a business owner, but can’t get a job with their company.
Go to work for the competition. Look at the owner you want to shadow from afar. You’ll often gain some interesting knowledge from the outside perspective.
Business leaders often talk candidly about other business leaders. Especially the competition.
6. Follow Their Lead
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Look at someone that you admire. That’s in a field you have interest in working in.
And simply follow the path they followed. Do the work they did. Down to the last detail. Or at least as much as you can.
You can throw in your own little details here and there, but follow the path laid out for you.
That’s been the path many successful people have taken.
7. Talk To People They’ve Worked With
One thing I like about biographies vs. autobiographies is that the authors often speak with people that have interacted with the person that is the focus of the book.
You learn a lot about a person from their own perspective. But you learn even more by listening to the people that know them best.
I can tell you about myself. But my wife has a different perspective about me. And so does the Account Manager on my team that I work with the most.
You can often get access to the people that have worked with your target mentor much easier than you can get direct access to the mentor. And that access could lead to even better insight than you would get directly anyway.
Maybe you could even hire their previous assistant or #2 person to be on your team. They can bring the good things they learned from your mentor and also fill you in on the not-so-good things that you can avoid.
8. Read About Their Companies
We’ll get into reading books about the person. But also focus on books about their company.
I’ve really enjoyed reading company-focused books like the one about the Lego turnaround. It was fascinating.
This gets back to focusing on results. You can learn a lot by listening to the the person talk about themselves and what they’ve done, but a book about the company results can tell you even more.
Oftentimes the mentor doesn’t even realize the reason they’re successful. They’re just living their life. They don’t have advice to give. It’s your job to pay attention to the results and build on that.
That’s what they’re doing.
9. Watch Their Interviews
That being said, I do get a lot from watching interviews of successful people. I’m not necessarily looking for advice. I’m looking for stories. Even the seemingly “boring” stories about infrastructure and setting up a business. Or how to deal with people and team dynamics.
When people tell stories it offers an opportunity to pull your own advice from the example.
10. Read Their Book
This is my favorite. I’ve learned an incredible amount from books. Biographies. Autobiographies. Company profiles.
It doesn’t matter.
The more you study successful people the more you’ll learn what you can do to become successful yourself.
This post comes from a little bit of an odd angle. I fully believe in the power of mentors. There are many successful people that want to spend time with others, especially those that are driven. It can be a great opportunity for you.
But you don’t even need that. You can glean insight from successful people not necessarily in a mentorship role, but as an observer. That’s where the tips above are most useful.