The Startup
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3 Powerful Ways to Capture the Attention of Star Mentors

…by making them like you and WANT to help you

You know that in today’s economy, it’s not WHAT you know but WHO you know that matters.

If you want to accomplish anything significant, you have to have the right connections.

If you really want to get ahead in business or life, you need to know the star players in your space — leaders who can teach you, mentor you, and introduce you to the right people.

But star players are notoriously difficult to reach.

Even when you do somehow get a hold of them, they are usually busy folks playing at stratospheric levels. At best, they might give you a few short sound bytes of advice, and then move on.

Yet, if you really want to learn from the best, you need to form a real relationship with them, one that will last longer than a single quick email.

So how in the world are you supposed to hold a potential mentor’s attention and convince them to share their time and wisdom with you?

Here are three ways to do exactly that:

Be so good they can’t ignore you

“If your goal is to love what you do, you must first build up career capital by mastering rare and valuable skills.” — Cal Newport

In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You*, author Cal Newport argues that the most important thing an ambitious person can do is to hone your craft.

Your goal is to become so good at what you do that people couldn’t ignore you even if they wanted to.

If you can do something no one else can do, or do something BETTER than anyone else can do it, it doesn’t matter what else is going on, they will want you.

For example:

Famous pianist Glenn Gould was a child prodigy and a master at performing the music of J.S. Bach.

But he was also extremely odd.

Gould was a hypochondriac who wore multiple layers even in the summer, insisted on having the air conditioning in every building adjusted to the tenth decimal point, and traveled with one particular squeaky chair which he used for every performance.

In other words, Gould was a headache to deal with.

But concert organizers and Classical music buffs didn’t care. They bent over backward to give Gould anything he wanted, if he would only play for them — because no one else could play Bach as brilliantly as he could.

So despite the serious drawbacks of working with him, people were still willing to do whatever it took to work with him.

I’m not saying, of course, that you should be a difficult, cantankerous pianist to attract people’s attention.

But the point is, Gould wasn’t born with the ability to play Bach’s piano works masterfully. He focused on a niche and honed his craft over the years until he was so good people simply could not ignore him.

You too, can do the same. Find an area or aspect of your work that you are passionate about and have a real knack for, and hone your skill until you are the undisputed master in your area. Demonstrate your commitment to that skill.

Then, no star mentor will want to ignore you. Rather, they’ll come looking for you.

Help people without asking or being asked

After Sheryl Sandberg (author of Lean In*) lost her husband, she wrote an article about what she appreciated most during her grieving period.

Although she understood the kind-hearted intent when people asked “what can I do for you?” she found that the friends who were the most helpful were not the ones who asked how they could help, but simply DID things — bringing meals, coming to visit, giving hugs.

There’s something extra special and helpful about people who do things without being asked. People who see a need and seek to fill it.

These kinds of people will be noticed, liked, and remembered by everyone they touch — including potential star mentors.

Years ago, when I was interning in a state where I knew no one, I was invited to a couple’s home for dinner after church.

There were many other guests over, and they hung out in the living room, getting to know each other. But when I wandered over to the kitchen, I saw the hostess busy cleaning the mess of toys her daughter had left on the floor.

I asked if she needed help, and of course she said “No, that’s okay, go spend time with the others, I got this.”

But I started to help her clean and organize the toys instead. She was relieved and grateful, and later, this particular couple was extremely kind to me — offering to drive me around because I didn’t have a car at the time, without my needing to ask.

The point is, people are sometimes too polite or too busy to tell others that they need help.

Sometimes they don’t even know that they need help, or what kind of help they need.

So it’s up to you to keep your eyes open and look for a way to help people.

Be proactive, be generous with your time and your efforts, and keep looking for opportunities to make someone’s life better.

And when it comes to attracting the attention of star mentors, look for some way you can help them, and then do it, without being asked.

Your future mentors will be touched that you noticed their needs, impressed by your dedication and creativity in finding a solution, and therefore MUCH more likely to remember you and extend help when you need it.

Be good to the people around the star player

There is no such thing as an insignificant person.

Everybody you meet, from the greeter at the desk to the building janitor, knows someone who knows someone who might be an important star player.

In his book, The Sell: The Secrets of Selling Anything to Anyone*, top New York real estate agent Fredrik Eklund talks about the importance of his assistants and the workers in his office.

If someone wanted to do business with him, but treated his assistants or workers with disrespect, Eklund would not give them a second glance.

But if his assistants praised someone, Eklund would pay special attention to that person.

Similarly, whichever star mentor you are trying to reach is insulated from the many people who would love to take up his time by assistants and “common workers.”

And if you are genuinely kind and respectful to these people, they may just put in a good word for you with the boss.

Don’t be mercenary about it. People can tell when you are being nice to them just to get to someone else.

Just remember that there is no such thing as an insignificant person, and treat everyone with the importance they deserve, and you may find doors unexpectedly opening for you.

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears

Think of it this way. If YOU were a star, who would you want to help? Who would you want to mentor?

Someone who is always looking out for himself, who wants to get to know you because of the good it will do him?

Or someone who is a true giver at heart, someone who wants to help you reach your goal, someone who has demonstrated real interest in you and your work?

Most people would choose the latter, of course.

So be that kind of person — be a giver, not a taker; a doer, not a wait-er.

Do the best you can with what you’ve got, and you may find that your perfect star mentor is waiting to help you fly farther than you dreamed possible.

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