Research Behind Modern Mentorship: Inside ‘Super Mentors’ and the Networks of the World’s Most Successful People

“You’ve just got to put yourself out there,” is popular advice for today’s ambitious job seeker. Go to more networking events, participate in mentor matching sessions, send cold emails for informational interviews, and countless other pieces of advice all built around “putting yourself out there” to open doors. 

“That’s all advice from the 1950s,” says Eric Koester, author of the book Super Mentors: The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Asking Extraordinary People for Help. “The shotgun approach to finding your one true mentor is so played out. It just doesn’t work anymore.” 

Research finds that only a third of us have mentors, a woeful stat that is only made starker when you realize that three-quarters of us say mentoring is very important to our success.  

“A lot of what we’ve taught about mentorship is based around making people behave more extraverted, or putting themselves out there more,” Koester says. “If you’re shy or an introvert, you just need to ‘get over it.’ That’s this antiquated idea that if you don’t have a mentor you aren’t trying hard enough. But what we found is that that’s incorrect. It’s not about putting yourself out there. It’s about pulling people in.”

Super Mentors describes the framework to modern mentorship as “aiming higher, asking smaller, and doing it again and again.” Koester tells people to stop seeking a mentor. Instead, start a project, and invite people to be a part of it. 

“Projects are the magnet for casual mentors,” Koester says. “It’s a way to create the context for your engagement rather than just ‘picking their brain’ or ‘asking for career advice.’ This old idea of putting yourself out there and hoping a mentor takes you under their wing has been replaced with the idea of creating projects that attract others to join.” 

Koester has studied some of the most successful people to understand how they created the mentor relationships that transformed their lives — their Super Mentors. As he details in the book, these relationships were driven by the mentee (not the mentor), typically revolved around a collaborative project, and usually accelerated after a series of smaller interactions. 

“Some of my most successful students who have leveraged these approaches are introverts,” Koester says. “We tell people to just reach out willy-nilly, when it’s much easier to scope the relationship around something. Want to know more sports agents to get a job in sports management? Create a podcast to interview them. Want to work in the entertainment industry? Create a conference around entertainment and NFTs to invite speakers from the industry. Want to break into venture capital? Write a book that lets you interview VCs as part of your research. You’ll find that people love to help out when they know it’s easy for them and helpful to you.” 

Super Mentors was written after Koester saw the impact of his unique approach to teaching in the classroom, helping thousands of his students accelerate their careers and trajectories through these ideas. Ultimately, it led to the book he hopes finds its way to many of today’s most ambitious individuals. 

Koester’s collaborator Adam Saven has seen this change firsthand in watching how students and learners leverage their technology-driven mentoring platform. 

“In our work at PeopleGrove, we’ve seen countless connections fall flat because the mentee wasn’t prepared. They met with a knowledge-sharer because they knew it was the right thing to do, but they didn’t have a plan beyond that. On the other hand, we’ve seen countless success stories where the mentee builds a game plan and creates a powerful connection that moves them past the inflection point and towards opportunity. What I love about the insights behind Super Mentors is it outlines that game plan and gives learners the tools they need to create dozens of these connections.” 

They share that most people who don’t currently have a mentor reported having a poor experience with prior mentors, citing poor fit, a lack of follow-up, and unclear outcomes from the relationship. Whereas, those with mentors reported receiving an opportunity such as an introduction, a job interview, a collaborative project, or another specific way to work together on something. It’s that insight that led the authors to push people away from broad-based mentors and to seek starting projects to attract casual mentors. 

“We know mentors matter to success and most people want a mentor,” Koester says. “But we don’t just want a mentor; we want someone who can open a door for you, provide an introduction, or move your resume to the top of the pile. And that rarely comes from just putting yourself out there more. We need to show people the reality that they can have a Super Mentor, but not by just continuing to do what used to work.” 

Whether you’re an executive or a recent college graduate, you’ll find wisdom and inspiration in Super Mentors. It’s a book you can read and consume quickly or one you can work through chapter by chapter applying the lessons in your life. You’ll be certain to see why what worked in the past no longer does, and why there’s a new path ahead for modern mentoring that is accessible to us all.