I’ve found when most people think about the process of learning, they usually focus on two paths: learning through study and learning by doing. However, these aren’t the only two forms of learning. In fact, I believe the type of learning with the highest long-term payoff is learning through a technique called “modeling” or apprenticeship.
Apprenticing is essentially the act of finding a mentor and studying with that mentor to gain the knowledge and skills that have helped that person reach his or her goals. This might seem like a new type of learning method, however throughout history this has been a tried-and-true path for learning a skill or profession.
If you want to learn how to do something well, find someone who has already mastered that skill and apprentice yourself. Model your behavior based on the actions that have created their success and ask them for their advice and expertise. Creating a lasting relationship with a mentor will not only help you learn new skills, it will also influence how you see yourself. The impact one person can have on your life as a mentor is truly inestimable.
While growing up, I was a pretty average kid. I had average athletic abilities, average social skills, average grades, and ultimately an average first job. I was doing fine, but I wasn’t excelling or reaching my full potential—and I knew that. It wasn’t until I met a man named Clyde Share as an accounting intern at the Albuquerque airport that this would start to change. Clyde was an accomplished, successful man in his sixties. As the airport director, he ran the entire airport and was in charge of its 140 employees. One day, Clyde asked me if I wanted to get a cup of coffee. I joined him, and we talked. We started making that cup of coffee a weekly occurrence, and it progressed to a daily routine. Clyde took me under his wing. It was the first time I felt acknowledged and embraced by a person of importance. It suddenly changed how others saw me. I could tell people in the airport were saying, “What does Mr. Share see in this kid? Maybe we should look at him differently, too.”
Once others started perceiving me differently, I started seeing and acting differently. I put forth the required effort on a daily basis and started believing in myself. I started acting like someone who was heading toward greatness. After completing college, I went on to graduate school. During this time, I continued to work at the Albuquerque airport and eventually landed the position of airport manager. Word started getting around the business community about my early success and by 28 I had accepted the Manager of Systems Division position at Texas Instruments. I attribute much of my early career success to Clyde’s mentorship. Clyde saw something in me I hadn’t seen in myself. I learned the power of a mentor through Clyde.
The key to successful mentorship is to find a great mentor. Start by writing down a list of successful people in your field whom you would like to model yourself after. A person can be defined by those he or she aspires to emulate, so choose carefully. When you are seeking a great mentor, ask yourself the following questions:
Do whatever you can to make your mentor a part of your daily life. Learn as much as possible by reading inspirational and motivational books, watching webinars and videos, and following your mentors on social media.
Take this a step further. If you want to learn how to do something well, find someone who has already mastered that skill. The quickest and surest path to raising your quality of life is to start hanging out with people who have accomplished the goals you’ve set out for yourself. Whatever goals you aspire to, seek out people who have achieved the same or very similar goals. Emulate them. Let their mastery of the skill rub off on you. When you work with someone who has already achieved mastery in your field, modeling your behavior on their experience will take your success to the next level.
Do you want to be a great public speaker? Spend time with great speakers. Do you want to find business success? Spend time in a company full of successful businesspeople. Do you want to be a better parent? Spend time with moms and dads who have mastered parenting. Stay inspired by working with mentors who believe in you.
In our “instant-everything” world, we often want to take the express train. We want results, and we want them now. But of course, it doesn’t work that way. We can’t jump from the first stages of learning to leadership. Leadership is not something you do; it is something that grows organically out of the natural rhythm of learning. When you start at the beginning of anything, you are at the highest level of anxiety. You gradually lower your level of anxiety by raising your level of mastery as you learn. As you continue climbing that ladder of knowledge and following worthy mentors, your mastery level rises to the point where you realize others are modeling their behavior after yours. You have become worthy of emulating and serving as a guide to others. You have grown into a mentor.
I truly believe that if you want to learn how to do something well, find someone who has mastered that skill and apprentice yourself. Mentors are one of the most valuable assets for a successful entrepreneur.
JEFF OLSON is a world-class speaker and a visionary leader in relationship marketing. Founder and CEO of a thriving international network marketing company, Jeff turned his startup into a global skincare giant in less than four years.
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