Every CEO I’ve met has had a mentor of some sort in their career. Interestingly, in most cases, these were through a reporting structure and weren’t formal mentoring relationships.
How to convince a CEO to mentor you
CEOs are insanely busy people in very high demand. And yet, every one of them that I have met finds time to mentor several of the next generation. The fact is they want to help and give back, but they don't want to waste time either.
CEOs are insanely busy people in very high demand. And yet, every one of them that I have met finds time to mentor several of the next generation. The fact is they want to help and give back, but they don’t want to waste their time.
It is unlikely that you can offer them much from spending time with you except for giving back. So that is the lever to pull. Here are a few steps that have worked time and again when I’m connecting with big names. If I skip any of the steps the success rate plummets. :
- Carefully select the right mentor for you. This should be someone you admire and trust through what you’ve seen of them. You need to be able to connect with them and so if it’s a fabricated relationship setup by the company if very often doesn’t work. Start with someone you WANT to learn from.
- As a rule of thumb aim for someone 2 to 3 (stretch 4) levels above you in your current organisation. If they can see common ground you’ll be more likely to get a positive response.
- Get to know them in a social setting at a work function or similar first. This has a massive impact of response rate. Build an initial connection by asking natural questions and just being yourself and show that you’re willing to be vulnerable and learn…if they can sense that you’re genuine and comfortable in your own skin then that goes a long way to them having a good instinct about you. In the end, if they can put a face to a name when you send through an note requesting to meet up for a coffee then your chances will sky rocket.
- Don’t ask, don’t get. Stop the rot and all the ridiculous reasons why you think they’ll say no and just ask. I’ve had plenty of CEOs turn me down for The Inner Chief or to meet up for a coffee but never once has any of them ever made me feel bad about asking. They respect it. Mainly because it is what they did.
- Get your email request right, this is not all about you. You have to pull the right heart strings. As a guide include the following:
- Proof that you listen to what they say and have read any articles/newsletter they’ve published
- Demonstrate that you’re keen to learn, aspirational and are challenging the status quo in your work
- Make the request and outline that you are also mentoring a couple of younger leaders (If you’re not, then start you’ll learn just as much in that process as in having a mentor and its rocket fuel for the soul)
- Just ask for one coffee to begin with rather than a full blow mentoring relationship. This is sort of like going on a bit of a date.
Subject: Are you open to a coffee?
Thanks for your presentation at the recent annual leaders forum. Your insights around accountability really hit home for me and I’ve been thinking more about how I approach my career and life.
We’ve met briefly a couple of timesand if you recall I lead ABC function. We are in the middle of a significant transformation that requires full commitment and energy for all involved.
I’ve always been a believer in having mentors and currently mentor several young leaders in the business. I’m looking to be really stretched in my career and I was wondering if you could spare 45 mins for a coffee to give me a little guidance. I’ll come to you, I’ll buy the coffee. Whatever fits for you.
Of course, I understand if you’re already fully committed.
How to manage the relationship
If you don’t get a coffee that’s cool. The timing just isn’t right. Try someone else. If you nail it then get yourself prepared and take a mindset to LEARN.
According to Dan Hunter, CEO of HealthShare NSW, “you manage the relationship, you manage the agenda.” This is spot on. You need to make this as simple as humanly possible for the CEO. Here is your agenda. Aim for once a quarter and arrange the time with their EA.
- Establish rapport and ask about their work, career and challenges
- Reconnect and update them on your progress. Outline how you acted on the advice they gave, the results from each of these and the lessons you learned.
- Ask any further advice on those challenges. E.g. “How would you approach…”, “What would you do in x situation?”
- Finalise by thanking the for their time and if they are open to catching up once a quarter in a similar format.
Other quick tips. If they recommend a book. Read it and take notes. Send them a one line email when done to say you read the book and the one big lesson you got from it. Be vulnerable and genuine and show that you’re looking for areas to grow and learn. CEOs are not looking for people that know it all or are blind to their development areas or impact on others. In fact, they are looking for quite the opposite.