How I secured world-class mentors, and you can to.

This month I’ve secured 3 of the best mentors I could possibly hope for.

It took me weeks of messaging and unanswered calls before I finally got their attention.

5 minutes was all I was asking for, initially.

These are busy people. They run companies. They have families. They have their own interests. Many things call their attention, so..

“Why should they talk to me?”

Late last year I set an ambitious goal – to be designing and facilitating collaboration on a global scale within the next 5 years – to be shaping conversations and action on topics such as cities of the future, energy, migration, economic inclusion, sustainable food. Topics that matter for the future of our species.

I was clear in my own mind ‘why I was worthy of their time’ and I was ready to back myself.

At a macro level this goal highlighted some significant shifts in focus for me, and consequently a number of capability, credibility and network gaps I will have to close.

Before I could even identify who I wanted as mentors I had to be clear on what I was looking for in a mentor, so I identified a number of domains I would personally need to grow in:

  1. Collaboration design and facilitation – this is my primary domain but there are plenty of people in the world with far more experience and very different talents than me. I want someone who is well ahead of me in this journey. Someone who can recognise what I am doing without attempting to ram me into a particular method or network or whatever. Someone who can see many potential paths and create a new one, with me.
  2. Big business – for a long time I’ve seen business as perhaps the most important lever to drive positive impact in our world. But most major corporations aren’t wired this way. I want to understand the dynamics of leadership in big business including where and how they direct their attention, beyond chasing profits.
  3. Government – I’ve had the opportunity to design and facilitate some fascinating work: bringing together multiple agencies to explore Sydney in 2056, and a cross-industry collaboration on autonomous vehicles. I see massive potential in Government investment and public-private partnerships and I want to increase my ability to identify topics or problems that can bring together such collaborations.
  4. Politics – when I originally wrote ‘navigating the political domain’ in my notes I was thinking about the politics of government investment of time and capital. Then my interpretation expanded to the political cycles of state and national government and how it plays out in investment. Then I got to thinking about the nature of ‘politics’ beyond government, i.e. politics inside private enterprise or community groups. There are people that are particularly talented in this domain and I have a lot to learn from them.
  5. Entrepreneurship & building teams – I’ve had my share of failed ventures as most people who are driven to pave their own path do, but some people seem to have a track record of creating multiple successful enterprises. I want to know more about what it is these people look for, how they see ideas and concepts that have potential, and ultimately how they build teams to deliver the entrepreneurial ideas.
  6. Balance (navigating family, health, personal interests and profession) – this is important to me. I’m very proud of my wife and daughters and I could not imagine missing my daughters growing up. I believe successful marriages require constant nurture or risk growing apart. I also know how important physical activity and time in nature are to my overall health, these are commonly the first things to suffer, I experience this and have to repeatedly catch myself. I see significant risk to my balance as I ramp up my aspirations in life and want to find exemplars of this trait to learn from.

I don’t expect one person to cover all of that terrain. After some thought about this and reflection on people I already knew of and was inspired by, my sights landed on 3 people with very specific traits (I am yet to cover all the above domains). For each of them I had to answer the question..

“Why am I asking you?”

This stage of my thinking happened relatively quickly. And given the pre-thought in personal vision/goal, developmental aspects and identification of mentors – I’d expect it to. Being able to articulate your logic in a punchy way can have a great impact on the conversation, it certainly landed well for me.

I was able to articulate both what I had observed in them and why it was relevant to what I was trying to achieve.

And the final piece of the equation was..

“What does this involve?”

My inspiration for this structure came from an interview with M. Sanjayan (CEO of Conservation International) in which he talked about his group of mentors as a Personal Board. I loved the term and the intention behind it. Boards are formed and adapted to suit the context of the organisation, and provide a level of oversight and strategic direction without getting caught up in the day to day.

Adopting this principle I decided a good place to start would be two meetings per year of one hour duration. This forces me to be really clear about where I’m at and what I need, while being respectful of the time demands on the mentor. I would ask that I can email or set up a call in between only if something big comes up and their council would be beneficial. After considering how I would structure this relationship..

I was able to demonstrate a thoughtful process that could achieve the desired outcomes while respecting the person and the relationship.

So bringing that all together the conversation went something like this..

“I’ve set a big goal to be designing and facilitating collaboration on global topics such as cities of the future, energy and sustainable food; to have an active role in platforms such as the World Economic Forum.

To achieve this I’ve identified a number of domains in which I need to accelerate my growth. One of these is understanding the dynamics behind how big business operates and invests, beyond the obvious – profitability.

You are an extremely successful person in this domain, and from what I’ve observed you manage to pull this off without losing focus on your family, your health and your general attitude on life. This is important for me too and I want to learn from you.

If you’ll accept I want to meet with you twice a year, for one hour. I’ll come prepared to share the detail of my plans, strategies and challenges, and to seek your advice. I will only call or email you in between these sessions if something big comes up. And if at any point this arrangement is not working for either party, I expect us to call it out and close off the arrangement.”

As I go into this journey no doubt my model will evolve but I’m absolutely thrilled with the beginnings and the willingness of those I’ve already asked.

Tell me, how has mentoring worked for you..? Please let me know in the comments and share this article if you found it useful.

Let’s accelerate success,

Nicolas Rivers