When I was in eighth grade, my Mom got a call from my basketball coach to inform her I was hanging out with the "wrong crowd".
Growing up, I was always a good kid. Sports always consumed my extra time after school and in the summers. I always earned above average grades. So when my Mom approached me about the call, I couldn't understand why it was such a big deal.
Although the kids I was hanging out with during break and lunchtime were starting to dabble in drugs, declining grades, and curfew violations, I wasn't doing any of those things, and I pointed that out to my Mom.
She wasn't buying it.
"Bret," she said. "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether or not you are actually doing the things they are. Even if you aren't, people will still think you are and they will think you are on the wrong path too. Birds of a feather fly together."
At the time, I didn't get it. In fact, I was angry that my parents and coach would try to "control me" and tell me who I should and shouldn't be friends with. After all, they didn't know those kids.
Looking back at that moment, now 22 years later, that was one of the best pieces of advice I ever received.
Throughout your life, nothing will determine your level of success more than the people you associate with.
The late business philosopher Jim Rohn used to say, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with."
Charlie "Tremendous" Jones used to say, "In five years you will be the same person you are today, with the exception of the people you meet and the books you read."
Without a doubt, the people you hang out with rub off on you. Over time, their standards, habits, expectations, goals, and even bad habits, will start to influence you. Ultimately, this will affect your actions as well.
When I started in sales, I was not a natural at it. In fact, I was horrible.
The first thing I did was find out who the people were that were achieving the results I wanted, and I befriended them. They all didn't help me, but most of them did. And the information they shared and approaches they showed me changed my life.
I'm still good friends with several of them today.
Learning from others' successes and mistakes shortens your learning curve faster than anything else. You get to identify the good best practices that led to success, and you get to avoid the missteps and pitfalls that halted their growth.
Who wouldn't want that?
When looking for friendships and mentors in business, here are 5 key ideas to consider:
1. Realize they are everywhere
In this day in age, there's no excuse to not find information. Usually, your best mentor works for the same company you do. It might even be your current boss.
Seek out the top reps in your company. Approach them, and make friends with them. It doesn't even have to be anything formal.
Just make friends with them. Get to know them personally. Once you do, you'll realize you are a lot closer to success than you originally thought.
2. Give value first
Want someone to be compelled to help you? The best way to do that is to give so much value that when you ask for help, they couldn't possibly say no.
One of the best ways to build a friendship quickly is to take a genuine, personal interest in people, just for the sake of being a caring person. Get to know them, their family, and the things that are most important to them. If it sounds like they could use help with something, offer to help.
Often times, movers and shakers are involved in organizations. Let them know you'd like to get involved.
Keep in mind, you're not doing this with the sole angle of digging your hooks in so you can ask for help later on. You are genuinely looking to give, and to make friends.
3. Gain clarity on what's going well, and also where you could use help
As you gain experience in your world, take note of the things that are going well, and also the areas where you feel like you're struggling.
When I was new in sales, there were things that I instantly knew I was good at. For example, I'm a meticulous planner and strategizer. So when I became friends with my first mentors, I knew those weren't the first areas where I was going to ask for help.
However, when it came to getting appointments, my selling skills, and gaining customer referrals, I knew those were the key areas I needed help with right off the bat.
So those were the key areas where I asked for help early on.
4. When you ask for help, focus on 1-2 specific areas
When you ask someone for help, it's always best to focus on 1-2 specific items you'd like help with, especially initially.
Imagine getting a phone call from a colleague, and them dumping all of their work problems on you all at once. If you're like most people, you'll think, "I don't have time for this person and all their problems. I have plenty of my own!"
However, if you get a call, and someone on your team tells you they've been having trouble getting prospects to keep appointments and wanted to sit down and pick your brain on the topic for a few, that doesn't sound too overwhelming.
Over time, and as your relationship buiilds, you will end up discussing everything under the moon. But it's key to remember to not shoot them with a fire hose right out the gate.
When I'm interviewing candidates for sales positions, I always give them to opportunity to ask me whatever questions they like, regardless of how candid or intrusive they may be.
It seems like one question that always comes up is: "What's your best piece of career advice?"
Without hesitation, my answer is always, "pay attention to who you spend your time with and who you let influence you. It will determine your level of success more than anything else."
Over the course of your career, some people will be friends for life. Others will provide you guidance during a period of your life, and then you'll drift apart over time. There will also be plenty of times where you provide others the support they need as well.
That's how strong friendships build. They are a two-way street.
Regardless of how long or short your friendships and associations last, the friends you keep will determine the path of your life.
In addition to the business and career aspects of building friendships, those relationships extend far beyond business. Having great friends who are supportive, caring, and in the same phase of life as you are is invaluable.
You can support each other,find motivation from each other, laugh and sometimes cry together, and be a constant reminder that you're not in it alone.
After all, birds of a feather fly together.
Bret Barrie was a Hall-of-Fame and Presidents' Club-winning sales rep and is a top-producing sales leader in the medical device industry. He is also the author of The Selling Edge: How to Reach the Top in any Sales Industry and Promoted: The Proven Path to Career Advancement. A baseball enthusiast and fitness junkie, he is happily married with three children and lives in the greater Sacramento area. For more information, visit bretbarrie.com.