Benjamin Franklin once said, “There are two ways to acquire wisdom; you can either buy it or borrow it. By buying it, you pay full price in terms of time and cost to learn the lessons you need to learn. By borrowing it, you go to those men and women who have already paid the price to learn the lessons and get their wisdom from them.”

This is the essence of the mentor-protégé relationship. By going to people who are ahead of you in the personal or professional arena, and by opening yourself up to their input, advice and guidance, you can save yourself the many months (maybe even years) and the thousands of dollars it would cost to learn what you need to learn all by yourself.

Kop Kopmier, the famous success authority, said that one of the most important secrets of success is to learn proven success methods. He once told me that perhaps the fastest way to get ahead was to study the experts and to do what they do, rather than trying to learn it all yourself. In fact, he mentioned that no one lives long enough to learn everything they need to learn starting from scratch. To be successful, we absolutely, positively have to find people who have already paid the price to learn the things that we need to learn to achieve our goals.

The mentors you choose should be people you respect, admire and want to be like. The advice you seek should be guidance regarding your character and personality and specific ideas on how you can do your job better and faster. Remember, you can’t figure it all out for yourself. You have to have the help of others. You have to find men and women who will guide you and advise you on the road of life, or you will take a long, long time getting anywhere.

There are two vital aspects to look for in a mentor. The first is character and the second is competence.

Character is by far the most important. Look for a mentor who has the kind of character you admire and respect. Look for a person who has high degrees of intelligence, integrity, judgment and wisdom. The more you associate, even in your mind, with men and women who are advanced in the development of their character, the more you will tend to pattern them and to become like them.

The second thing you look for in a mentor is competence. This means that the person is extremely good at what he or she does. A good mentor in your career is one who has the knowledge, skills and abilities to move ahead far more rapidly than his or her peers. The impact of a mentor on your life is dependent on two additional factors. The first is your degree of openness to being influenced by another person. Openness is so important because many people, especially young people, are extremely impatient, always looking for shortcuts. When they get advice that another person has spent many years learning, they often try to add their own variations and improve on it without ever having mastered the original instruction in the first place.

Remember, when you open yourself up to guidance and input from another person, concentrate first on understanding and learning exactly what that person has to teach you. Afterward, you can modify and change that lesson to suit your changing circumstances.

The second factor that determines the influence of a mentor on your life is the willingness of the mentor to help you in every way possible to achieve your personal goals. We know that the more emotionally involved someone is in our life, the more susceptible we are to being influenced by that person. When you consciously and deliberately seek out a mentor, you must look for someone who genuinely cares about you as a person and who really wants you to be successful in your endeavors.

So, for a good mentor-protégé relationship, you must be wide open to the influence and instruction of the other person, and at the same time, the mentor must be genuinely concerned about your well-being and your ultimate success. These are the two essentials.

Your ability to choose your mentors, in written form, on audio and video, live at seminars, and (even better) in person, can be a crucial step toward achievement in all areas of your life. So here are twelve steps you can take to build successful mentor-protégé relationships:

1. Set clear goals for yourself in every area of your life. Know exactly what it is you want to accomplish before you start thinking of the type of person who can help you accomplish it.

2. Determine the things you have to do in order to achieve your goals, the obstacles you will have to overcome and the roadblocks you will have to surmount.

3. Identify the areas of knowledge, skill and expertise you will have to acquire in order to overcome the obstacles standing between you and your goals.

4. Look around you and select the most successful people in the areas in which you will need the most help.

5. Join the clubs, organizations and business associations these people belong to. You can find out this information if you ask.

6. Once you have become involved in these organizations, become actively involved and volunteer for responsibilities. This will bring you to the attention of the people you want to meet faster than anything else.

7. Work, study, and practice continually to get better and better at what you do. The very best mentors are only interested in helping you if they feel it is going to be of value. You will have no problem attracting people to you when you develop a reputation for being an up-and-coming person in your field.

8. When you find a potential mentor, don’t tackle him or her or make a nuisance of yourself. Instead, ask for ten minutes of his or her time, in person, in private. Nothing more. Remember, most mentors are busy people, and they may be opposed to someone trying to take up a lot of their time. It’s not personal.

9. When you meet with a potential mentor, express your eagerness to be more successful in your field. Tell him or her that you would very much appreciate a little guidance and advice to help you move ahead. Ask for an answer to a specific question, or for a specific book or audiotape recommendation, or for a specific idea that has been helpful to him or her in the past.

10. After the initial meeting, send a thank-you note and express your gratitude and appreciation for his or her time and guidance. Mention that you hope to meet again if you have another question.

11. Each month, drop your mentor a short note telling him or her about what you are doing and how you are progressing. There is nothing that makes a potential mentor more open to helping you than your making it clear that the help is doing you some good.

12. Arrange to meet with your mentor again, perhaps on a monthly basis, or even more often if you work closely together.

Over the course of your life and career, you will have many mentor-protégé relationships. As you grow and develop, you will move on to mentors who can give you the kind of advice that is most effective for your current situation.

The most wonderful thing about this process is that successful people are very open to helping other people who want to be successful. This is especially true if you are willing to be a mentor to others who are younger and less experienced than you. The more open you are to helping other up the ladder of success, the more open will be to helping you.

The fastest way for you to succeed is by piggy-backing on the good advice and counsel of men and women who have already spent years learning how to succeed. When you do this on a regular and systematic basis, you will open up doors of opportunity and possibilities for you that today you cannot even imagine.

When you practice positive self-talk, and keep your words and your mental pictures consistent with your goals and dreams, there is nothing that can stop you from being the success you are meant to be.

Author's Bio: 

A leading authority on the development of human potential and personal effectiveness, Brian Tracy is a dynamic speaker with a wonderful ability to inform and inspire audiences. He is the president of the Institute for Executive Development and was formerly the president of a major development company. The author of numerous books and other materials aimed at helping people perform at their peak and achieve their full potential, Tracy has shared his winning insights with thousands of people throughout the world.