The Sum of Five: The Levels of Building Your Mentor Network

 Ana Trujillo Limón


Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is famously quoted as saying: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Take a moment and jot down the names of the five people you spend the most time with. Are they people you aspire to be like? Do they have the characteristics you want in your life and your career? Do they influence you in a positive way? Can they help you improve your professional and personal life?

I first became aware of this quote in 2018. My husband, the coach, is always sprinkling his coaching wisdom in our everyday conversations, and this Rohn quote was one of those sprinkles.

A few months later, I was accepted to the Latino Leadership Institute, which previously was at the University of Denver, and thus began my journey of consciously surrounding myself with great people. This can be done by both building your network of “mentors” who might not even know they’re your mentors and through more structuring mentorship programs.

In this article, I’ll share some tips on how to help you build your top five and raise your game.

A Network of ‘Mentors’

Research has found that organic, informal mentor relationships might be more beneficial than formal mentoring. But you can consider anybody you learn from a mentor. In my experience, I was often introduced to “mentors” who didn’t know they were my mentors through networking in programs, work or school.

When I started the Latino Leadership Institute fellowship program in 2018, I was introduced to a host of people who became my friends, my role models and people I would bounce ideas off of. For example, when preparing for my interview here at Carson Group, I tapped my friend and LLI alumna Priscilla Gomez to do mock interviews with me. When she had an interview for her new job, she tapped me to do the same.

Larry Sprung, of Mitlin Financial, noted that when he first started out in the industry, there weren’t many blogs or websites to help with professional development or networking. So he started reading books by Ron Carson before he even knew him. He said he considered Ron a “de facto mentor” because he enjoyed and learned from his books.

Jaqueline “JaQ” Campbell, President and CEO of Alexander Legacy Private Wealth Management, noted that she also considered Ron a mentor because of his content. She also considers other CEOs as mentors through listening to and learning from them on podcasts, reading their books and sometimes even being brave enough to reach out to them on LinkedIn.

Mentors don’t have to come from a formal program. They don’t even have to know they’re your mentors. All you need to do is surround yourself with people who you can learn from and who can inspire you.

The Three Mentor Categories

But if more formal mentoring is more your speed, there are ways to do that, too.

Dr. Julie Ragatz, Vice President of Next Gen and Advisor Development Programs here at Carson Group, broke down work from researcher Belle Rose Ragins of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee on mentoring.

Ragatz noted that there are four types of mentor categories we should pursue in our careers: technical, practice management, emotional and political mentorship. Campbell said that the first step to figuring out who you want to be your mentor is to know what type of mentor you might need for your current career stage.

“For me, I may not need a mentor to help me get through my licensing,” Campbell explained. “But I might need a mentor to help me run my business as a successful CEO.”

Here is a brief explanation of each type of mentorship:

Technical. This type of mentorship helps us with the technical mastery of our craft. This is the kind of mentor who can help you study to pass your CFP exam or help you figure out what certification would be best for your particular niche. For me, this mentor might help me figure out what type of content to start producing and help guide me to resources to learn how to do that.

Practice management. If you’re running your own firm, this type of mentorship will help you learn best practices to do that and hopefully a host of past mistakes your mentor made that they can help you avoid. If you’re a CEO, you want to find a CEO-level mentor to help guide you.

Emotional. This type of mentorship helps us with our emotional and personal growth. It helps us become better people, better professionals and better friends. This type of mentorship can help us become more self-aware and improve our own emotional intelligence for better business and personal outcomes.

Political mentorship. This type of mentorship is one forged with people in leadership positions who have social and political capital. These are the relationships younger professionals can forge with superiors or other managers or executives. This is the type of mentorship most likely to lead to sponsorship and career advancement.

A Basic How-To Guide

Before you embark on these mentor relationships, whether they’re formal or informal, you need to first identify what you want to gain from being mentored or being a mentor.

Then do your research on who you might want to mentor you. If you’ve decided you want somebody to help you figure out how to advance your career, pick a person who is in a leadership career who inspires you, which is critical.

“A mentor has to inspire you,” Campbell said. “If they don’t inspire you, they shouldn’t be mentoring you. You have to say, ‘This person inspires me, and by getting their coaching it will push me to the next level of excellence,’ And then the magic begins.”

If you’ve identified somebody and it’s another professional in the industry outside your firm, read some articles they’ve written or listen to some podcasts they’ve done. Learn their story before you approach them.

Then, armed with your research and information, reach out to them and introduce yourself and tell them you are interested in being mentored by them. What is it about them that drew you to them? What about their story inspires you? Tell them.

If they are amenable to being your mentor, then you can set a schedule to meet based on your mentor’s availability. It’s critical that once you set this schedule, you keep those appointments, come to those meetings prepared and be mindful of your time together. That means don’t be late, don’t cancel at the last minute and know what you want to ask or learn from them during that time.

Another critical aspect is to offer something in return. When you come across helpful and relevant articles, send them to your mentor. Check in periodically. Figure out ways to add value back to them.

Let’s Build

The basic premise of this article is this: Your network is usually the source of the best, most effective mentors. And focusing on building your network to surround yourself with people who you look up to and aspire to be like is only going to raise your game. Oftentimes, you’ll find more structured mentors in those personal relationships.

But you can seek out formal mentoring programs and a more structured path to building your network. See if your firm has a formal mentoring program. Or get involved through those formal mentoring programs available through entities like CFP Board and the Financial Planning Association.

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