Looking For a Mentor? Here's Sheryl Sandberg's Advice...

By James Mills, Mentorship Coach & Associate Partner, Lighthouse International

To build a lasting and trusting relationship with a mentor we need to ensure we are well prepared to invest into the relationship.

When you look at every legend who has ever succeeded at any significant level, they have always had a mentor.... without exception! But when out interviewing thousands of people around this subject on the streets of London 5 years ago, we found an extremely small number of people who actually had mentors.

Why is this?

Do most of us not want to really succeed?

Or do we just not know how to find a dedicated mentor who will have the wisdom and commitment to be able to help us with absolutely any personal or professional challenge we may face?

This article is a must-read for anyone interested in what billionaire Sheryl Sandberg has to say on this subject and how this can be applied through what we have learnt at Lighthouse International and the Legends Report over the past 13 years.

How Do Most People Feel About Mentorship?

Through our experiential research and discovery, we have interacted with more than 25,000 people to understand what gets in the way of people succeeding in the way they would ideally like. Part of this has involved understanding people's views on mentorship. Here are some of the comments we've heard over the years, there may be some that you relate with?

"I'm looking for someone of this specific... (age/gender/ethnicity/profession/family situation/level of career success) and I haven't met anyone like that so far. If they don't meet that description then I'm convinced they won't be able to help me."

"I've been looking for 10 years and I'm just waiting for someone else to believe in me."

"My school/university/employer has a mentoring program, but I didn't qualify for it."

"I felt a little intimidated and didn't really know what to speak to my mentor about."

"My mentor was very busy and so we didn't really get much time to speak or meet."

"There was someone I felt who would be a great mentor, but the more I got to know them, the more I realised they wouldn't be able to give me the help I need."

"I'm too scared to ask someone to mentor me. How do I ask them and what if they say 'no'?"  

What Does Sheryl Sandberg Have To Say About Mentorship?

Sheryl Sandberg is someone who has benefitted from mentorship throughout her career and it's enabled her to rise to the ranks of COO of Facebook as well as becoming a billionaire. In her book, Lean In, she has some advice to share when it comes to how we should see mentorship:

“The strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides. Instead, of telling young people, “‘Get a mentor and you will excel’,” she wrote, “we need to tell them, ‘Excel and you will get a mentor.'”

What Ms Sandberg is saying is that for mentorship to work, it first needs to be seen as a privilege to be earned and it cannot simply be expected. Think about it from the mentor's side.... they want to help someone to benefit from their experience and so they want someone who's hungry to learn. They want to nurture someone's potential, but they ideally need a mentee who's clear about what they want to give to the relationship as well as receive; otherwise, the relationship becomes one-sided and will fizzle out.

What Does This Mean For Any Potential Mentee?

The simple message is that if we are looking to build an effective mentoring relationship we need to make sure we are also investing in the relationship. We need to be prepared to bring our own ideas, enthusiasm and expectations to the table; as opposed to expecting a mentor to do our thinking for us.

We need to know what we are working towards, what help we need and to be able to ask good questions. If we simply see a mentor as someone who can introduce us to influential people or who will be solving our problems for us, then we aren't respecting them and the value they are offering.

Below are some questions that can help you be prepared to start an effective mentoring relationship. If you need any guidance with such questions, then we have a whole team of mentors who have years of experience of being asked and asking these questions! 🙂

How To Apply This

Here are some mentorship questions to ask yourself in preparation for any mentoring relationship...

  • What is your vision for your life?
  • What are your life and career goals for the next year or 5 years time?
  • Who are the people you want and need to connect with in order to ensure you have access to the required knowledge, skills and resources to get there?
  • Would you like to make a difference to society one day?
  • What is your self-investment plan to bring these ideas, goals to life? (I.e. what are you prepared to invest in your growth and development in terms of time, effort and money?)
  • With all of this in mind, what specific help and advice do you need from a mentor?


Would you value speaking to a mentor to help you with answering these questions?


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