Book Review: “Super Mentors: The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Asking Extraordinary People for Help”

This article is part of NASFAA's occasional book review series, where members share their reflections on books, published within the past five years, on higher education themes of interest to financial aid professionals. The opinions offered and statements made do not imply endorsement by NASFAA or the authors' employers and do not guarantee the accuracy of information presented. Would you like to suggest a book for a future review? Email us at [email protected] with your recommendation.

When you think about mentorship, what comes to mind? Do you think about how you’re going to request mentorship from the person you strive to emulate? Do you hope they will be receptive and immediately take you under their wing? Do you worry about rejection? Do you hope they will share their wisdom with you for years to come? We have all been taught that mentorships are important and that we need to find a person who can guide us throughout our professional journey. But this approach places too much responsibility on the person being asked to be a mentor and can lead to missed opportunities if we fixate on a single individual to work with us.

Christine LamReviewed by Dr. Christine J. Lam, assistant director for client services at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

In “Super Mentors,” authors Eric Koester and Adam Saven recommend moving away from the traditional idea of seeking a long-term “inspirational mentor” who provides little more than advice and moral support. Instead, they recommend seeking specific problem solvers, known as “super mentors,” to help us achieve success. They explain that super mentors “drive tangible outcomes” by providing problem-solving guidance, a chance to work on a project together, or introductions to people who can open doors to opportunities (14). “Super Mentors” describes how to leverage the expertise of these individuals to assist with specific issues without putting too much responsibility on a single mentor.

According to the authors, most people fail to secure the mentorship they desire because they ask the wrong question: “Will you be my mentor?” This question is vague and suggests the dynamic will be time-consuming for the mentor. Instead, they advise those seeking a mentor to “Aim Higher, Ask Smaller, and Do It Again” (12). This involves identifying your ideal mentor for a particular issue, asking for assistance with a specific problem rather than requesting ongoing mentorship, and doing so with different individuals and/or at different times according to the particular challenge or goal at hand. The book doesn’t waste time describing why mentorship is valuable; instead, it gives a name to the process and lays out steps to achieve super mentorships.

The authors divided the book into sections outlining The Four Laws of Super Mentors: The Law of the Right Ask, The Law of the Right People, The Law of the Right Start, and The Law of the Right Time (17). Together, these four laws can help you identify and receive the support of super mentors. The authors do not address how to approach individuals to serve as more traditional inspirational mentors; instead, they focus on easily achievable ways to seek direct guidance and opportunities from individuals who have the potential to offer targeted assistance.

“The Law of the Right Time” chapter offers examples of different categories of super mentors, demonstrating how individuals may need different mentors to address different issues at different stages. For example, a college student might seek one or more instructors as a super mentor, while in the work world their super mentors may be senior-level colleagues or high-level members of a professional association. On my own path, I have had several super mentors, although I never formally requested that they serve as mentors. In these cases, I have expressed my problem or challenge and received opportunities to work toward my goal. Some of these mentoring relationships were short-lived, while others are still ongoing.

The book illustrates the value of super mentors with stories of well-known individuals, such as Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steven Spielberg, who (unbeknownst to them) followed the four laws of super mentorship to gain opportunities and success. While these stories provide helpful insights, the model may need to be adapted somewhat when applied to higher education. For example, a university president cannot be a mentor to everyone who asks, even if the request is short term, because their schedule usually does not allow for such opportunities. According to the American Council on Education (2017) 65% of college presidents identified budgets and financial management occupied most of their time, while 44% of college presidents cite lack of time to think and reflect as frustrating.”

That’s not to imply that everyone in the field should avoid reaching out to the president of their institution to establish a super mentor relationship, although for some this might be an appropriate step. However, aiming high might refer to approaching another senior-level executive with expertise about a specific challenge you face and soliciting advice on how they might help with the issue. For financial aid administrators, that may mean working with leadership within their division. Such assistance may take the form of extending an invitation to sit in on a meeting, work with them or their staff to conduct issue-specific research, or jointly participate in a project.

Ultimately, “Super Mentors” provides an excellent roadmap to ambitious individuals who need help to reach their goals. It provides invaluable insights into present-day mentorship that apply to any field. Whether starting a career in higher education, tackling a new challenge, or preparing to move ahead in the profession, “Super Mentors” shows the steps needed to identify and work with mentors who can provide the right guidance, insights, and opportunities to achieve your goals.

“Super Mentors: The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Asking Extraordinary People for Help”
by Eric Koester and Adam Saven. New Degree Press, 2022, pp. 324.

Christine J. Lam is the assistant director for client services at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She began her career in higher education 10 years ago in admissions and has served as a financial aid administrator for one and a half years leading efforts in enhancing the client service experience and conducting outreach to the local community. Christine holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from New Jersey City University, a master’s degree in higher education administration from SUNY Stony Brook University, and a doctoral degree in educational leadership with a focus in higher education from Saint Peter’s University.


Publication Date: 9/18/2023

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