Ep039: the what, why, & how of mentoring – a conversation with Don Watkins

Don Watkins the TalentGrow Show the what why and how of mentoring Halelly Azulay host

Most of the time, I interview my guest about their unique expertise. This time, I lead a peer-to-peer conversation with my guest, author, philosopher, and thinker Don Watkins (who was also featured on ep026), all about mentoring. We chat about what mentoring is, how to get a mentor, how to become a mentor, and how to overcome the fear of asking for mentorship. We discuss how to ensure a good value exchange as well as common mistakes people make in asking a mentor for their help and in ensuring they ask for just the right kind of input – not too much or too little. What’s really in it for the mentor? Don and I both share advice and stories from our own careers about being mentees/protégés as well as mentors, and of course actionable tips and advice you can put to use immediately to give and get more value out of the mentoring relationships in your life. Take a listen and share with others!

What you’ll learn:

Listen to Stitcher
  • Don’s mentoring story on learning how to become a writer and speaker (4:05)
  • What was one of the key points in Don’s transitioning to being a successful writer and speaker that came as a result of working with a mentor? (6:12)
  • Why does Don suggest you need both mentors and models – and what’s the difference? (7:30)
  • It takes more than exposure to a mentor’s ideas that helps – it’s critically thinking about the mentor’s work and trying to reverse engineer their thinking process so that you can break it down and make it your own (7:47)
  • Mentoring’s value comes from exposure, thinking deeply, breaking down their process, and judging it critically (8:30)
  • Even though Don’s story involved some unique aspects (as anyone’s does), you can extrapolate some useful principles that you can use for YOUR unique situation and needs (9:55)
  • Why are a lot of people fearful of asking for mentoring from someone? What’s right and what’s wrong with this fear? (10:40)
  • What is one of the most pleasurable things for somebody who is successful that they can accomplish by being a mentor, and the huge return-on-investment that awaits them? (11:47)
  • Why do you want to ensure that you keep mentoring as a very low investment on the mentor’s part? (13:16)
  • What are common mistakes to avoid when approaching your mentor? What should you do instead – specifically? (13:50)
  • What’s the number one mistake that people do after they ask a successful person for advice and they get it? (15:08)
  • What’s a suggestion Halelly gives that has worked for her with giving value to high-profile mentors to ensure that they perceive a good trade of value (16:18)
  • What’s a higher value way to give appreciation to a successful person to differentiate you from other ‘fans’ (17:29)
  • How do you actively think about making mentoring a win-win relationship? (19:55)
  • Why should you think about mentor relationships as long-term ones, whenever possible? (21:05)
  • How can a mentorship be an opportunity for the mentor to develop your skills as a leader? (22:38)
  • What’s the flip-side of the advice we gave that is also good advice about being a good mentee/protégé? (23:34)
  • What lesson can you learn from Steve Jobs that Don also learned from his mentors? (23:55)
  • Don’t be over-respectful of the other person’s time that you don’t ask for anything, but avoid having an entitlement mentality also (24:30)
  • What’s the worst way to ask a mentor to be your mentor (in which Don makes Halelly giggle)? (25:04)
  • Why you don’t need an official mentor program or title to be a mentor (or mentee/protégé)? (25:55)
  • Who should ‘drive’ the relationship and bear the brunt of the work? (26:48)
  • What if you want to be a mentor and no one is pursuing you as their mentor? How can you find a mentee/protégé? Halelly chimes in with some ideas. (27:23)
  • What does Don suggest you do right away? There’s a book recommendation involved, but there’s also more that you can do in the next 10 minutes? (31:15)
  • What does Halelly call “seeding” that could help you develop win-win relationships with people you might want to be mentored by? (33:32)

LEAVE A COMMENT: What have you experienced in terms of mentoring - whether being the mentor or the protégé? What are your reactions about this podcast episode? We’d love to know!


About Don Watkins

Don Watkins is one of today’s most vocal champions of business and free enterprise. He is coauthor, with Yaron Brook, of the national best-seller Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government, and of Equal Is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality—the first book to challenge the crusade against economic inequality. A fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute and a former Forbes.com columnist, Watkins writes for The Guardian, USA Today, and FoxNews.com, among many others.


Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Welcome back to the TalentGrow Show. This is Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist with episode 39. This is a repeat visit by episode 26 guest Don Watkins, and Don and I talk about mentoring. What it is, how to get a mentor, how to become a mentor, how to overcome the fear of asking someone for their mentorship, and the worry that lots of people have about maybe not delivering value or maybe that person wouldn’t really want to be my mentor. So we talk about a lot of the very common questions lots of people have about this idea of mentoring, and we both share stories from our professional career and how we got mentors to help us and what things we did to make that relationship successful, and how we ourselves are also sometimes mentors to others, some common mistakes people make and definitely ending with actionable advice. So I hope you enjoy this episode with Don Watkins and here we go.

By popular demand, I have Don Watkins back on the show. Listeners of the show might remember that he was a guest on episode 26 of the podcast, in which Don and I talked about common misconceptions and mistakes about career success and what motivates people to high performance and we also talked about the key benefits of aligning your philosophy and your action. So Don is actually a very successful writer, author, speaker. He co-authored the national bestseller Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government and most recently Equal is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight About Income Equality, which both of those you co-wrote with Yaron Brook. Don also has a podcast and he and I have both spoken at a conference that was for young people just starting out their career and recently we actually also engaged in the mentoring Q&As for some of the members or some of the attendees of this conference. This is how the idea for this podcast came up, because the topic that came up a lot was mentoring. Don and I both have built our success with the help of mentors, and we know a thing or two about what makes a good mentor, how to be a good mentee or protégé and I thought it would be great to have Don back on to talk about this topic so that we can give you some ideas about what you can do to either become a mentor or get a mentor and to make sure that we’re all thinking on the same page with this. So Don, wow, that was a long introduction! Longer than I expected. Welcome. Welcome to the TalentGrow Show.

Don: Hey, great to be back.

Halelly: It’s so good to have you back, and I really appreciate your time and agreeing to come back on. This, like I said, was spurred recently when you were asked some questions about mentoring that were really questions that I also get a lot. You had such great answers I was like, “Oh my God, we’ve got to record this for the TalentGrow Show.” I guess a good way to start and introduce the listeners to you in case they didn’t listen to episode 26 which I highly recommend that you do, or if they don’t remember, can you tell us I guess your story with relation to mentoring in terms of your career success?

Don: Let me say what didn’t happen. What didn’t happen is that I read a book that said, “Hey, you need a mentor,” and then I found one and then all was well. I kind of stumbled into it, actually. I always knew I wanted to be a writer and I guess the closest thing I had to any sort of mentor was I had one teacher in high school who was amazing. She was a former journalist and she taught me a lot. But what ended up happening is I got invited to come work at the Ayn Rand Institute and I had been writing on my own, but I didn’t really know any other professional writers. I always wanted to be one but had no clue how you did it. And I had some raw talent and some knowledge, but super rough around the edges would be putting it nicely. Then you mentioned that I also do public speaking. There, if you would have told somebody 10 years ago when I first started at the Ayn Rand Institute that I would be a public speaker, they would laugh at you, because I couldn’t order a sandwich from Subway without stuttering my way through it and it was complete disaster.

But I got to the Institute and I very quickly realized just from the people I was working with how much I had to grow. There was one person in particular, a guy named Alex Epstein who no longer works here but runs his own center for industrial progress, he in particular, his work really impressed me. The way that he went about his work really impressed me and so I basically chased him down like a teenager in love and tried to get feedback as I could to figure out what is he doing differently in his thinking, in his work habits, in his approach, than what I’m doing. So there was never any formal relationship and I didn’t even think about it as mentorship. It was just somebody I would go to to constantly ask questions of, get feedback from. Usually very painful feedback in the sense that it was properly very critical of what I was doing, and I had the good fortune – and this is really great. If you can make this work, you’re golden, to move in with him and live there for about a year, year and a half. Once again, it was just taking advantage of everything I could to get feedback.

One of the things that happened, I guess probably six months or so into doing that is I realized when I was facing difficult problems, I could internally imagine … I couldn’t figure out how to solve them, but I could internally figure out, I could hear him lecturing me, even though he hadn’t said the exact words regarding this problem. “This is how I would solve it or this is how I would answer it.” And of course it wasn’t really his voice, it was me just having internalized all those lessons and I think that was one of the real key points in transitioning to being able to be a successful writer and speaker was having worked with somebody closely enough that I could see how they thought and then put my own spin on it and be able to do what I was going to do. Without that individualized feedback, there’s no way I would be where I am today.

Halelly: Do you think that being able to put him into your mind, sort of or put yourself into his shoes, to think about your situation, was that a result of just repeated exposure to his commentary, such that you were able to predict it or to anticipate it?

Don: Well, exposure certainly is one layer of it, but it takes more than that. This is wider than mentorship. I think about it as mentors and models are the two things you need. A model is anybody who has done what you want to do or knows a lot about what you want to do, but you may or may not know them. They may or may not be alive. Whether it’s a mentor or a model, you have to actually break down what they’re doing to try and understand it. So it wasn’t simply that, for example, I read a lot of Alex’s writing or listened to a lot of his Q&As. It’s that I thought deeply about what makes this work? He made this point. I wouldn’t have thought to make that point, or he used this kind of example or he started out a talk by asking a question of the audience rather than just going in material. Why?

And just thinking very deeply, trying to break down, in effect a backwards engineer. What are the steps that he went through? What are the thinking strategies he used that I wasn’t using? So I think you need exposure for sure. But exposure is not enough. There are people who will read an author for 20 years and they’ll be able to tell you something about how the person thinks, but they won’t master it, and it won’t become their own method. Because what happens when you break it down is that you’re making it not just I’m repeating something that I heard somewhere, you’re making it your own. Ultimately you’re putting your own spin on it because part of breaking it down is thinking critically about, “He does it this way, but in this case I disagree.” You’re judging it too. If you wanted to kind of sum up what I think goes in, it’s as much exposure as you can, it’s really thinking deeply and breaking down what you see, and then judging it along the way. So it’s not just, “Here is somebody I’m going to copy thoughtlessly, but I'm going to think about what they’re doing.”

Halelly: So thank you for sharing that story and you are really fortunate. I would imagine one of the tips we probably will not be giving today is go find a mentor you can room with. Not very likely!

Don: I have the worst advice. In that same house is where I met my wife, because she moved into the house too. So people always ask, “How do I meet a girl,” and I say, “Wait until she moves in your place.”

Halelly: You’re just unique in all ways, Don. Lucky and unique. Aside from that, I guess what I’d like to do is extrapolate principles that anyone can use from the specifics of your story and my story, because everybody is different. But there are things you can emulate or replicate or mold into something that could work for you. As you said it, you have to think critically. You can’t just sort of completely mimic what someone else does or how someone else does it. You have to make it work for you. So something I want to talk about is how we might suggest that people get a mentor, aside from the specifics of your situation. And I want to talk definitely about what’s in it for both sides? Because I know that one of the things that comes up a lot – I know you dealt with it in that Q&A that I listened to – was the fear or concern or hesitation that a lot of people have in asking for mentorship from someone because they’re worried that it’s an imbalanced relationship. It’s not a give and take relationship, they think it isn’t, and therefore they feel very ill at ease if they’re a fair, equal trade kind of oriented person, who doesn’t want to take advantage of anyone, and also because they’re worried that the person will probably say no because they won’t see what’s in it for them. So I want to make sure we talk about that. So should we start with how to get a mentor, or what do you think? Should we talk about what’s in it for both sides?

Don: I mean, I think they go together really well, and if I miss something here, definitely feel free to chime in with your own thoughts. I would say there’s something right and something wrong with that attitude or that fear toward mentorship. The thing that’s right is that I think most people go about pursuing mentorships in a really bad way. They’re usually not successful and we can talk about that, but there’s something really wrong. One of the most pleasurable things for somebody who is successful is to help other people be successful. Particularly when they can identify them. It’s in effect, how cool is it that I can give my younger self what I wish I had when I was there, and you can even think about it in a practical sense. Here’s a really high leverage way to get results in the world that I don’t have to do. I can only write so many books, but if I can give 20 hours to somebody over a period of a year or two and they can write a bunch of books that I like, and think are valuable, that is a huge return on investment. So the question is, given that there is this value for the mentor, what do you need to do as a mentee in order to actually get feedback from the person?

I had a kind of unique scenario in that the person I went to for mentorship was already incredibly successful in terms of the skills that I wanted, but he was not culturally successful, but he wasn’t yet known in the industry, so there were fewer demands on his time. In that sense, I was benefiting from the fact that I had a monopoly, or close to a monopoly. I think that’s obviously the unusual case. I’ll name kind of one thing that I think is a real key, and then I definitely want to hear what you have to say about this, because I think there’s a lot that we can … there’s a lot of advice you can give on getting a mentor. The number one thing that you want to think about is that you want to keep it very low investment on the mentor’s part, and part of the reason why is you want to show respect for the person’s time because even though it is a value to him or to her, it’s not as much of a value as it is to you. You might be willing to sit with this person for hours; he might only be able to give you 20 minutes.

So the question is, what do I do? The number one thing you don’t do – and this is the kind of mistake I see all the time – the number one thing you don’t do is ask them a question that they’ve either already answered in some form that you could get, like in a book they’ve written would be the worst, or you ask them a question that Google could answer. If it’s in effect, “How do I get a publisher or how do I get an agent for a book?” that is not a good question because that is something that is a standard question you can get logging on the internet for five minutes. If it’s, “How do I get a book about something this author has written about that’s kind of weird,” okay, that’s a different scenario.

What you really want to do, at least at first, is you want to ask a concrete question they can answer very quickly, so that it’s low investment on their part. For example, “Hey, I’m writing a book. I haven’t decided on a title – what are your best two suggestions for how to pick a title?” or something like that. Then the second part of that is you just go and do it. Don’t argue with them, even if you disagree or think it’s weird or it makes you uncomfortable because they’re asking you to do something that’s outside your comfort zone. Go do it and then report back the results and then if you have a follow-up question, ask it. Because the number one thing that happens when people ask a successful person for advice is they ask for advice and then they don’t take it. They don't do anything. They don’t take any action. Usually, in fact they argue, because what they really want to be told is, “Hey, everything you’re doing is perfect.” But no. If you go and you take action and report the results, you go a really long way to securing somebody’s interest in helping you in the future.

Halelly: I think that’s really wise advice, and it’s a great way to think about it. I do have some ideas to add. So if you think the people that are worried about not giving value and I love your advice of don’t ask for a lot and think about that there is this potential value and then make sure that you deliver on it, so that idea of ask for something small and then do it helps that mentor actualize that value of having seen the results in someone that they mentored. That gives them the motivation and the fuel to keep going, incentivizes them to want to help you again, because you gave them return on their investment, as you said.

Something else I’ve done, successfully, actually, a mentor that I had great success with and I’ve been very fortunate is someone who actually was already an author. Her name is Elaine (inaudible 00:16:32) and she already wrote over 50 books when I was starting to write my book. She helped me so much in terms of getting it published and getting it organized. So many things she helped me with, but it was always like you said, piece by piece. I didn’t come to her and ask her to just do everything for me.

But the one thing that I’ve done both with her and with other mentors who have kind of high profile is I’ve also thought about what are other ways that a mentor might get value from the relationship that isn’t necessarily like the same way that the mentee or the protégé might. One of the things that sometimes people really do find valuable, people who are successful, is to feel directly appreciation from the people who are consuming what they produce. So sometimes they become kind of so high on the ladder and they get kind of fan communication, or people kind of appreciating them in general, but I think it’s rare for them to develop a relationship with someone who is mainly a benefactor of their work, and to hear specifically what that person appreciates and to just receive their gratitude. One of the things I’ve done, and I suggest this to people, is if there’s someone that you admire or someone that you want to emulate, someone you might want to learn from, before you ever hit them up for any “give me,” like before you ask them for anything, give them. So giving them specific gratitude, showing up as a person who is grateful, showing up as a person who appreciates them, showing up as a person who just kind of boosts them or promotes them or brags about them or comments positively on their social media share – and again, in a sincere way, not in a brown-nosing kind of way – I mean, you do sincerely appreciate them, but you have to tell them that. And then you start showing up on their radar as someone … if you think about this virtual scale of giving and taking, you’re giving and you’re not taking anything.

Don: Yeah, let me say something about that, because I think that is such great advice, and it connects to one of the points I was making, which is even before you have somebody as a mentor, you can use them as a model. When we talked about you’re really trying to break down and think about it at a fine grain level, what they’re doing, and when you can ask a question that shows you’ve noticed subtleties in what they’re doing, you know, “You used to use this example, but now you use this example,” or, “You used to use this phrase,” when you show that kind of subtlety and understanding, that conveys appreciation in a way that’s so much more genuine than just saying, “I love your work. It’s great.” I’ve found that means the most when people do it to me, and it’s gotten the best response when I do it to other people. Because the eternal frustration of a successful person is not that they’re not praised enough. It’s that people don’t necessarily understand what they value in their work, what they think is really good.

Halelly: And so if you do that for that person, you’re on their radar as like a great person. They appreciate you a lot. So when you come to them with that one specific, not too hard to answer kind of question, they’re very likely to give you of their time and much more than you ask for most of the time. So it starts that ball rolling, where you’re ensuring that it’s a good trade. Where you’re giving value. You don’t have to give them your expertise. Because people think, “I’m just really young, or I’m just starting in this career. What do I know about being an author?” Well, you know about reading from that author. You know about appreciating that person’s way of thinking. You know whatever. Specifics of consuming what that person has created, and those are values to the author, or to the mentor.

Don: I think that’s really terrific advice. Again, this all comes under the umbrella of you should view it as how do I make this a trade that both sides win? And I think we talk about win-win relationships a lot, but win-win doesn’t simply mean that I want both sides to win. It’s that I’m actively thinking about how both sides can win. I’m looking to make sure and find ways that the other side can win and that I can as well.

Halelly: And then when you were describing your way of suggesting that the person ask, you’re filtering, right? You’re not bombarding them with everything you ever wanted to know from them, but you’re saying, “I didn’t want to tax them too much. How can I come to the most essential question I can possibly ask,” or like that first domino, and then deliver results on that. So it’s like that win-win doesn’t also have to have, it’s not like a tit for tat or a quid pro quo, and it doesn’t all have to be start and finish within one interaction. If you’re thinking long-term, and long-term relationship and a mutually beneficial relationship, the give and take happens over the long run.

Don: Definitely when I talk about kind of ask for the least possible, this is early in a relationship. Some mentorships remain, it can be someone who is famous and far apart from you and you only interact a couple times a year. Often it will develop more closely, and there just the natural flow of the relationship will mean you can have more in-depth conversations, you can ask more in-depth questions. The point is at the beginning, how do you establish that relationship and there it’s very important not to be presumptuous.

Halelly: And something that you can do is also offer value. So for example, maybe I don’t have the knowledge, but I am a potential test market. Elaine, my mentor, has sent me things to read and respond to, just kind of give her feedback from a fresh perspective or a different viewpoint. Or she’s asked me if I could do this or that. She’s asked me for favors over the years and I’m so happy that she did because it allows me to sort of pay her back for her knowledge and her investing in me. So there’s lots of ways that by developing that relationship, you could completely provide reciprocal value because there’s different things you can do. By the way, one of the things I talk about when I talk about developing leaders, if somebody wants to develop their leadership skills and their coaching skills, hello, a mentorship is an amazing way to do it. Because you’re not on the job as a leader, you’re sort of doing it on the side and you’re honing your skills as a leader and you’re getting feedback about that. Many people really love that. So let’s say if they’re not a famous author, famous speaker, whatever, there’s something they’re trying to work on, something they’re trying to develop and you could help them get their.

Don: For sure.

Halelly: I guess what does it – I think we just gave some ideas about how to be a good mentee in general. We included those in our commentary and we talked about mistakes that lots of people make. How to be a good mentee, how to be a good mentor. Any other thoughts about that from you?

Don: Let me stress another side of it, which is in effect it’s the flipside of don’t be too demanding, don’t be too presumptuous. Which is you need to be active. You need to be the driver. And don’t be afraid to take those steps and keeping in mind that you want to be respectful of their time. That doesn’t mean being timid or anything like that. Steve Jobs had this great video where he’s talking about a lot of his success was from asking and that most people didn’t ask. Ask can mean anything, and in his case I think he gave the example of when he was young and called up Hewlett Packard, got one of the founders on the phone, and asked for certain parts that he wanted to build who knows what gadget. And he got a job at Hewlett Packard then during the summers as a kid.

That was actually one of the lessons I learned from Alex, that wasn’t directly work related but much broader than that, was that he was not afraid to ask people for all sorts of favors, all sorts of things. The worst that happens is they say no. There’ve been other people who I’ve even tried to develop a mentor relationships with – i.e. I wanted some advice or feedback from them – and sometimes it just didn’t work out. They for whatever reason weren’t interested or I just went about it in a wrong way. But you don’t want to be so respectful of another person’s time that you don’t ask for any of it. Be active, but just keep in mind that they’re not there to serve you. I don’t think anybody in your audience would make this mistake, but the frightening part is I see it so much, where there is this kind of entitlement that you’ll see, particularly from very young people, asking for assistance or asking for help.

I would say a minor thing is you don’t start out by going, “Will you be my mentor?” You’re asking for a commitment from the person well beyond anything that they should be willing to give you at that point. What you’re asking for is you’re asking for answers to questions. You’re asking for feedback. You’re asking for concrete things that over time may or may not grow into a full-blown mentorship.

Halelly: I’m so glad you said that. That is so true. It’s like, “Will you marry me? I’ve never met you.” Why would you do that? But it’s a great point because I’ve actually had so many mentors but I’ve never had one that we officially had some kind of a title like that, like they were my mentor and I was their protégé. They don’t even know, sometimes I talk about somebody and say they’re my mentor and they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t know I was your mentor.” It’s not important what you brand it. And I know that a lot of organizations have or create mentoring programs and people can kind of sign up to be a mentor. But you don’t need an official program and you don’t need an official mentor badge to have a mentor. So I love your suggestion. It’s just like ask a question, and if it seems welcome and you’re definitely delivering a value on implementing their suggestions, then ask another question. And you don’t know what you can or cannot get if you don’t ask, and the worst that can happen is they will say no.

One of the things that I teach about this is that in my opinion, the mentorship relationship should be driven by the mentee or the protégé. They should bear the brunt of the work in terms of administrative details and in terms of setting things up and in terms of following up. That’s another way for you to provide a service. Take that off of the other person’s shoulders. Don’t have them have to deal with any of it. You can just kind of take care of it and make it easy for them to help you.

Don: I think that’s right, but I’m curious what you think about the answer to this question, which is I think there are a lot of people out there who would like to fill that mentor role for people and they don’t happen to have anybody who is pursuing it for whatever reason. Do you have any thoughts on how to pursue a mentor relationship from the other side?

Halelly: Hmm, that’s a good question. Well, first of all there are programs. I think there’s probably a lot, if you work for a corporation or an organization, they may well have one, and you can inquire. Probably it’s administered by a human resources department or something like that. But also, within the community, there are a lot of times that there are these non-profit organizations, associations, that set up mentoring programs and so if you have some kind of a passion around something, or some kind of domain expertise on something, there well may be an association, a trade program or some kind of an organization that helps people develop skills or communicate with other people who are interested in that, and that could be a place where you could find that there already is some kind of a mentoring program and often they’re searching for you and they just would love to meet you.

If not through an official program or if you can’t find one, one of the things that I’ve done is just take interest in people that are at the beginning of their way. For example, the program that I just mentioned, it was through networking that I was able to speak at that conference where we both spoke, and then they asked if I would do the Q&A. But I also met some people at that conference who seemed kind of thirsty for knowledge. I appreciated that. They talked to me in the hall, they seemed really interested in what I had to say. They asked me a lot of curious questions, and they didn’t pursue a mentorship. But I did invite them to keep in touch with me and we connected on LinkedIn or we exchanged business cards and so on, and therefore I was able to kind of comment and see what they’re doing. I’ve shown interest in those people. I’ve show appreciation for their work, or I’ve given them complements or kudos, let’s say, if they published an article or something like that. I think that sometimes when you show up for people that could be your protégé in that way, and in that kind of supportive way, it creates a very warm and inviting atmosphere to build that kind of a relationship. What do you think?

Don: Yeah, as you were talking about that last point I realized that’s what I’ve actually done. Again, usually with these things I kind of stumble into them and look back and go, “Oh, that’s what happened.” There’s a couple people I have that sort of relationship with and almost always it was because I spotted them when they were just starting out and I thought they were really talented and so kind of I went out of my way to make myself available and do whatever I could and let them know that the door was always open, although my door is always literally closed, because I was really excited about their talent and ability. And I think showing that enthusiasm does lend itself to that open door. I don’t believe in necessarily offering unsolicited advice to people, but showing your enthusiasm and then being willing to answer questions or provide assistance, I think that goes a long way.

Halelly: I like that. All right, well, I know that time is ticking and I want to make sure that we wrap up with actionable tips. So what would you say from your perspective is something that whoever is listening can do right away to move forward toward a mentoring relationship that is a value to them?

Don: I’ll say two things. One is cheating and I always like to cheat in these questions by just referencing a book that has lots of advice. This is one I think you’ve already heard me make, which is Robert Green has a book called Mastery that came out a few years ago. A huge portion of the book – I don’t know, maybe a third of it or something – is all about this question and has I think the best advice not only in how to get a mentor, but how to use one and how to evolve to the point where you’re not just a dim reflection of them. So I highly recommend that as a resource for somebody who is interested in more kind of thinking about this whole process.

Then I would say in terms of anytime you get inspired with advice, you should figure out, “What can I do right now, in the next 10 minutes?” and I would say a really good thing is just make a list of everybody who has some skill or even is successful overall in the field or an endeavor that you want to be successful at. Because as many people as you’re genuinely interested in, and if they’re dead that’s great, you can just use them as a model and think about how they do what they do. If not, figure out, “All right, what is one piece of advice that I could ask them for?” and then figure out a way to email them. Most people, including people who are famous, there is some way to get in touch with them. Just send that brief introduction, “Hey, I like your work for XYZ reasons. I had this question,” and then go take action and report back.

Halelly: Awesome advice. And by the way, you don’t even have to have their email because if most people are connected on Twitter, on LinkedIn, maybe Instagram, so there are ways for you to actually hit them directly on their smartphone, wherever they are, and probably not go through any kind of gatekeepers or filters. Just remember that if you show up as appreciative specifically, as specifically and sincerely as possible, you’re much more likely to get their attention and to get them interested in you than if you show up as needy or if you show up as mooching. Like just, “Give me, give me, give me.” So be filtered in what you ask for and be sincerely grateful and appreciative. I would add to your great suggestions – and by the way, thank you for referring me to that book because right after I heard you mention it before, I bought it and I started reading it this weekend and I can already say I’m going to love it.

I would say start seeding. I like to call this seeding, and I don’t mean this in some kind of an insidious way, but think about the people that could potentially be mentors to you and whom you really appreciate and/or admire, and just start vocalizing your appreciation for them with zero expectations. Because first of all, there’s no harm in doing that. No one ever feels like they’re appreciated enough, so you’re doing something amazing. It will feel good to you as well. But it’ll start to seed that relationship imbalance, where you’ve given more than you were asking for. So who knows in the future if you might want to ask them for something, they know you already as, “Oh, that really nice fellow from Twitter. Oh, that really kind woman from such-and-such.” That would be something that I would suggest you do in addition to what Don suggested.

So Don, thank you for engaging with me in this conversation. It always feels like too quick and I want to talk to you for another two hours. How can people stay in touch with you and learn more from you and about you?

Don: Well now I have to give out a Twitter address, don’t I?

Halelly: You might get asked for stuff.

Don: Well that’s fine. If they could dig up Pony Express, they can use that too. But in the meantime, @dwatkins3, and then the easiest way to follow what I'm up to is at donswriting.com. No apostrophe. I don’t know if there are any of your listeners that could possibly make that mistake, but definitely no apostrophe in the URL.

Halelly: Great, and I’m going to link to that in the show notes and everything else that we mentioned. Don is a very deep and brilliant thinker and writer and speaker, so I do hope and suggest that you follow him and his work. Thanks for coming back on the TalentGrow Show Don. I hope that we’ll go for number three soon, but until then, I hope you make today great.

Don: It’s been fun. Thank you.

Halelly: You are very welcome. I hope that you gained lots of value from that episode with Don Watkins and myself riffing on mentoring and that you will take action. We probably gave you a lot of different things that you can take action on, so my suggestion for you is start with something, start with baby steps, but put something into action today. That will set the wheels in motion and will get the ball rolling and whatever other cliché you want to use.

Definitely check out the show notes page where we link to everything that was mentioned, and of course all the ways to get in touch with Don, and that’s on the www.talentgrow.com/podcast/episode39. If you haven’t yet downloaded my free tool called 10 Mistakes Leaders Make and How to Avoid Them, I really think that you should because hello, it’s free, and it can help you. Don’t make these same mistakes I see over and over by a lot of people that are practicing leadership. Go get that tool. That will also help you get in touch with me through my weekly newsletter, which is always short, always fun, always upbeat and always useful. And of course if you don’t like it, you can always unsubscribe. Go grab that. There’s a link to it also on the show notes page, and a shout out on iTunes is always welcome, so if you haven’t taken the time to do that, please, it’ll take maybe four minutes of your time. All you do is just click the ratings, give us a rating – I hope five stars, but whatever you think – and then just maybe add a review that is one, two, three sentences long. It does not take a long time and you can always use an alias if you don’t want to use your real name.

I thank you for listening to another episode of the TalentGrow Show. I hope that it was valuable to you. I hope that you feel it was something that was a good use of your time and maybe someone else that you know could also benefit from it, so send it over to them. Until the next time, make today great.

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