How to get and keep a CEO mentor

G’day legends,

I’ve now recorded 5 episodes of The Inner Chief podcast and one perfectly consistent pattern is that every CEO has had a CEO mentor them in their career. In fact, all of them have had multiple mentors of different flavours that helped them in different areas of their life.

This fast post is split in two – firstly, how to get a CEO mentor, and secondly – how to keep them and get maximum value from your time with them.

How to convince a CEO to mentor you

CEOs are insanely busy people in very high demand. And yet, every one of them that I have met finds time to mentor several of the next generation. They fact it they want to help and give back, but they don’t want to waster their time.

It is unlikely that you can offer them much from spending time with you except for giving back. So that is the lever to pull. Here are a few steps that have worked time and again when I’m connecting with big names. If I skip any of the steps the success rate plummets. :

  1. Carefully select the right mentor for you. Picking someone totally unrelated in industry or profession or someone that is too many levels above you in the organisation is unlikely to succeed. As a rule of thumb aim for some 2 to 3 (stretch 4) levels above you in your current organisation. If they can see common ground you’ll be more likely to get a positive response. (Of course, if they have a universally bad reputation don’t even bother)
  2. Get to know them in a social setting at a work function or similar first. This has a massive impact of response rate. Build an initial connection by asking natural questions and just being your self…if they can sense that you’re genuine and comfortable in your own skin then that goes a long way to them having a good instinct about you. In the end, if they can put a face to a name when you send through an note requesting mentoring your chances will sky rocket. E.g. Recently, I asked a globally recognised CEO for a tag line on the cover of my book. The initial response from their team was that it will be presented to them but they normally reserve such things for people they actually know. Perfect example in point and I totally get that (and so I offered to fly to USA at my expense to meet them face-to-face). Think about it, if you’re going to spend additional time with someone junior as a mentor, then you’d also like to have a sense of who they are in the first place.
  3. Don’t ask, don’t get. Stop the rot and all the ridiculous reasons why you think they’ll say no and just ask. I’ve had plenty of CEOs agree to meeting me but never one that made me feel bad about asking. They respect it. Mainly because it is what they did.
  4. Get your email request right, this is not all about you. You have to pull the right heart strings. As a guide include the following:
    1. Proof that you listen to what they say and have read any articles/newsletter they’ve published
    2. Demonstrate that you’re keen to learn, aspirational and are challenging the status quo in your work
    3. Make the request and outline that you are also mentoring a couple of younger leaders (If you’re not, then start you’ll learn just as much in that process as in having a mentor and its rocket fuel for the soul)
    4. Give them a sense  of the commitment you’re after and that you’ll come to them.

Example email:

Subject: Are you open to mentoring?

Dear CEO,

Thanks for your presentation at the recent annual leaders forum. Your comments around taking ownership and accountability really struck home for me. I feel I’ve hit an important junction in my career where I need to take more ownership of my life and the business outcomes. [Show you listened, relate to self, demonstrate honestly and commitment to growth]

We’ve met briefly at a number of our functions and if you recall I lead ABC function. We are in the middle of a signification transformation that is a big challenge for all involved. It’s an inspiring and challenging part of the business to be involved with at the moment and I’m growing in confidence we’ll get the results. [Reconnect so they can put face to the name, demonstrate challenging the status quo and you’re a team player]

I’ve always been a believer in having mentors and currently mentor several young leaders in the business and have been mentored by great people in my life external to work. Now, I’m looking to be really stretched in my career and I was wondering if you could spare 45 mins for a coffee once a quarter to mentor me through this transformation. I’ll come to you, I’ll buy the coffee. Whatever fits for you. [benefits of mentoring, outline that you are mentoring others, outline commitment and make it easy for them]

Of course, I understand if you’re already fully committed. 

Sincerely

etc

How to manage the relationship

According to Dan Hunter, CEO of HealthShare NSW, “you manage the relationship, you mange the agenda.” This is spot on. You need to make this as simply as humanly possible for the CEO. Here is your agenda. Aim for once a quarter and arrange the time with their EA.

Agenda:

  1. Reconnect and update them on your progress. Outline how you acted on the advice they gave, the results from each of these and the lessons you learned.
  2. Ask any further advice on those challenges
  3. Outline one or two other major challenges that you currently face and ask for the their advice. Seek clarity on what they mean by asking questions and if they have any examples.

Other quick tips. If they recommend a book. Read it and do it quickly. Send them a one line email when done to say you read the book and the one big lesson you got from it. Be vulnerable and genuine and show that you’re looking for areas to grow and learn. CEOs are not looking for people that know it all or are blind to their development areas or impact on others. In fact, they are looking for quite the opposite.

Next Steps

Do it.

Stay epic

Greg