Looking for a Mentor?  Try a Peer, Instead!

This article originally appeared on the CFO Leadership Council blog.

Mentorship relationships can be immensely valuable.  A sage, experienced mentor bringing up a younger protégé is a time-honored idea that ensures an orderly passage of knowledge across generations.

As senior-level executives, it can be challenging to enter into such a relationship, either as the mentor or the protégé.  Not only can it be difficult to find the right counterparty to such a relationship, but the formality of the whole thing and apparent long-term time commitment can all be so intimidating and seemingly insurmountable, that we end up doing nothing at all.

So, what is an executive to do?

I’d like to suggest that there is an alternative.  It’s one that (a) minimizes the risk of picking the wrong person (either mentor or protégé), (b) eliminates long-term commitments, and (c) is really easy to set up.

Enter:  Trusted peer relationships

A trusted peer relationship starts with an understanding that most people are just like you.  They have questions, need encouragement, experience unfamiliar situations, need to solve gnarly problems, and would love the honest feedback of a disinterested observer.  If that sounds at all familiar, then here’s how a great trusted peer relationship can work.

An easy first step is to join a professional organization.  There are a some really high-quality groups out there for senior financial executives, including the CFO Leadership Council.  Those groups make like-minded members available through networking events, membership lists, and volunteer opportunities.

With a handy list of folks like you, it’s really easy to reach out and ask if they would be interested in a formalized relationship where you can help one another.  Here’s a template of what that can look like.

Find another person with some level of similarity to you.  Because we all love to talk to people just like us, this makes the introduction all the easier.  Reach out through LinkedIn, by email, or even through the phone.  The first two are least-threatening to a lot of people, so that may be the easiest place to start.

Let them know that you recognize similarities in background, admire their work, are impressed by their background… whatever helps break the ice.  With that, there’s an easy ask.  It could go something like this:

I’d really like to expand my professional network, and it looks like we have some similarities in experience.  Would you be up for a few scheduled phone calls over the next few weeks?  I’d really love to hear your feedback on some things I’ve been thinking about, and maybe I can be helpful to you as well!  If, at the end of those few weeks, we decide that there’s no value in continuing, then we’ll just stop.  If, however, we find that there is value, I’d look forward to keeping in touch!

The worst that can happen is they either ignore you or politely decline.  With that, move on to another person that might be more receptive!

When you do get a positive response, be ready for that first phone call.  Of course, you’ll want to introduce yourself, give a short version of your background, and then describe more generally what you’d like your future calls to go like.  The conversation should flow easily.  If it doesn’t come naturally by the third call, then you both know that it doesn’t make sense to continue.  Be sure to iterate, though, and try again!

On a personal note, I’ve found the trusted peer relationship to be immensely valuable.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet folks all over the country from a variety of industries, experiences, and backgrounds, and look forward to hearing what is going on in their professional lives on a regular basis.  For the cost that’s involved – only a bit of your time – the payback can be immeasurable!

Do you still need some extra help or encouragement?  Reach out to me.  I’d love to hear from you!


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