Caravaggio studied under Titian, Donald Trump learned from his dad, and Audrey Hepburn had Marie Rambert. Budding talents, whether they’re artisans or entrepreneurs, learn their trade through apprenticeship.
You probably already know that a mentor can be your strongest support as you grow in your field, but why should you get one, how do you keep that person, and what do you do as your relationship grows? Below, I’ve compiled three lessons from best-selling authors in business and growth who break down the intricacies of this most hallowed of teacher-student liaisons.
Lesson 1 with Keith Ferrazzi of Never Eat Alone: Surround yourself with the right influences
In her essay, The Eyedropper Sample of Friendship, Facebook Product Design Director Julie Zhuo explains the eyedropper sample of friendship. “In designer terms, if the world is one glossy, 7-billion pixel image, what color you are is likely the average of an 11X11 eyedropper sample of those around you.” Here, the eyedropper sample of friendship describes your social and personal ties, but it applies to your professional influences, too.
Getting close to pioneers in your field teaches you the tricks of the trade; at the same time, their “color,” or traits and proclivity toward success, rubs off on you. And the benefits of making smart allies don’t end there, because doing so also helps you develop the all-important personal network. Keith Ferrazzi, author and CEO of consulting and research institute Ferrazzi Greenlight, explains it in Never Eat Alone: if your personal network comprises people with many good contacts, you’ll find your own list of contacts beginning to improve and grow. And the better these people are doing, the likelier it is you’ll start to take on the color of success.
Lesson 2 with Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In: Be a partner, not a parasite
Remember that kid at school who cozied up to you whenever test day rolled around? Like an unbottled genie or a door-to-door salesman, he’d materialize, grinning and dragging his desk close to yours. For five minutes you had a new best friend, but as soon as the bell rang, where’d he go? Who knows? But he no longer needed the answer to #23.
In Lean In, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg advocates for not only finding a mentor so you can excel, but excelling so that you can find a mentor. Mentors – even when they are your peers (and they can be!) – select their protégés based on performance and potential. This means doing well is a first step toward getting the right person in your corner.
Whatever you do, take this to heart: mentoring is a reciprocal relationship. Ideally, the mentor learns from you, too, and feels a sense of pride from watching you grow. Respect your mentor’s time and expertise, and don’t just meet to “catch up,” exploit, or complain – or for the answer to #23.
Lesson 3 with Robert Greene of Mastery: For real success, pace, then outmatch, your mentor
Ah, Alexander the Great: famous fighter, strategist of war, and governor for the ages. The man is a monolith of history, but what you might not know is that much of the wisdom upon which he called and later embellished came from the teachings of Aristotle. Without the great philosopher’s influence as a foundation, Alex might be entered in Wikipedia today as Alexander the Kind’ve Alright or Alexander the Passable. His determination to learn and improve upon what Aristotle taught him is what moved him from good to great.
In Mastery, author and Renaissance man Robert Greene advises choosing a mentor who will teach you their ways, but upon whose work you’re able to riff and improve. The goal should be to learn the path from your mentor, but rather than stop when you arrive at the destination they’ve described, blaze the trail even further. Your mentor can show you the way and even provide help on the journey, but ultimately, you choose how far you’ll go. Set your watermark higher than your mentor’s rose, and you’ll be well placed to bring up the next generation of outstanding talent.