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Why You Need to Stop Asking People to Be Your Mentor

March 26, 2016, 3:00 PM UTC
Creative coworkers doing high five at the office
Photograph by Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you find a mentor? is written by Kim Metcalf-Kupres, CMO of Johnson Controls.

When done well, mentoring relationships can be a tremendous asset for personal and professional growth, but finding someone to help you navigate your career path is not always easy. Below are the four best pieces of advice that I can offer anyone seeking a mentor:

Start with a clear understanding of your objectives
In my experience, most people who say they want a mentor don’t really know what they want. Before seeking a mentor, develop a clear sense of your goals and objectives: What is your ambition? Where is there room for development? What are you hoping a mentor will do for you? Without this clarity, you will waste your time and theirs.

Make it easy for people to help you
Open-ended requests to “be my mentor” can seem overwhelming and put too much pressure on a potential mentor to formalize and drive the relationship. A better approach is to not even use the word “mentor”. Instead, seek out trusted advisors and initiate engagements by simply asking for help or advice: Would you be willing to help me understand the monthly financial statements? I admire your professional presence, would you be willing to give me some advice on how to enhance my own presence? These are the types of questions potential mentors are more likely to respond to with enthusiasm and helpful insights. They’re tangible discussion topics that can be separately addressed in relatively short amounts of time. This makes it easier for people to help you and provides an opportunity to build a relationship over time.

See also: Here’s Why It’s So Hard to Find a Good Mentor

Don’t rely on labels
Life is full of “mentors”. Open yourself to that possibility and be willing to accept help and counsel from those around you. They’re literally everywhere. One of my first mentors was my high school debate coach. I never asked her to be my mentor, but the skills and experiences she helped me acquire are integral to who I am today, and have compounded over the years to contribute to my professional success. Also, remember that everyone has different skills and experiences. Don’t expect one person to be able to address everything. Instead, cultivate a network of people you admire and can consult on many dimensions. Ultimately, the benefit of these external insights is up to you.

Cultivate sponsors
A mentor is someone who can give you advice that — depending on what you do with it — can help you learn and grow. A sponsor, however, is someone who can not only give advice, but also believes in you enough to advocate for you when it comes to real opportunities — a job, a promotion, or a referral. Meaningful sponsor relationships require trust, focus and commitment on both sides, but are always worth the effort.