The Six Things You Should Never Do When Asking For Advice

Philip Manzano • Mar 13, 2017

An Excerpt from Rank & File Magazine The post The Six Things You Should Never Do When Asking For Advice appeared first on Keela.

Not many CEOs would agree to an interview while recovering from surgery, but Nejeed Kassam is the exception to the rule. It turns out this graciousness is at the root of all his accomplishments.

Nejeed is what we at  Rank & File  like to call “a natural connector and community builder.” The CEO of Keela – a startup providing accessible productive technology for small and medium-sized nonprofit organizations – has a slew of former projects that intrigued us:

Chair of the Make Poverty History Campaign in Montreal, and an emcee of Live Aid Montreal with current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the age 19? Founder of a nonprofit at 20? Author of a book and a film producer for the United Nations Development Programme by 23? How does such a young entrepreneur also become a World Economic Forum Global Shaper by 25, and a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal recipient by 27? We had to get to the bottom of this craziness!

Nejeed says it all started before he was even born and it is attributed to his values. His parents had to leave their home country of Tanzania for the United Kingdom when they were just kids. “My mom was given the support of so many different communities in the U.K.: by the schools, religious groups and cultural communities. She was so grateful for all of the support she had been given. She is an amazing, intelligent woman – one of the youngest dentists to ever graduate from her class. But, she was only able to get to where she is because of the incredible community of support she has been given.”

Nejeed says that his mother “instilled the values of community very early on in my life.” Some of his earliest memories are of volunteering in his childhood home of Vancouver. “All the work I did was grounded in those values,” Nejeed tells us. “I owe that in many ways to my mom.”

After getting his feet wet through leadership roles in high school, Nejeed continued to act out his values in college. “I often come across the idea in young people that we know everything because we can Google everything. Young people are too often arrogant. I believe that we, as young people, can get bogged down because of our access to information, but that doesn’t mean we understand the wisdom behind that information,” Nejeed explains.

Instead, he chose a more humble route and began cold emailing people who were working in public policy at the time to get involved with their campaigns. As a “believer that the best way to learn is through people,” Nejeed built relationships, nurtured these connections and now has collected “something in the range of 30ish mentorship figures” in his life.

30-plus mentors? This is something we had to know more about!  Rank & File  dove into more detail with young CEO Nejeed on how to connect with mentors and how to structure their involvement, so that you too can become a “connector and community builder” with an army of people to learn from. Cheery and on-point, here’s Nejeed’s wisdom, coming to you from his recovery bed in Vancouver.


Always remember that mentors don’t have to be famous people. “We sometimes think that all mentors need to be these glamorous people – but they are not the only kinds.” High-profile people are generally more busy and can be “reluctant to engage to the same degree,” so look within your own network for people who simply know more than you in a particular area. And don’t get bogged down with age, Nejeed reminds us: “They can be just four years older but be excellent mentors because they are ahead of you in the journey. For example, when I was struggling with wedding planning, I called my big brother-figure … because he is married.”


If you have a “life crush” on someone, don’t be scared to ask. But you need to ask in the right way. Nejeed suggests ditching the all-too-common “I want some of your time” or “I would like to pick your brain.” A better way to phrase your request is “I am working on this project, and I need someone to pick it apart.” And never, ever go for the scary “will you be my mentor?” question; when you add titles and formalities, you can spook people.

Nejeed often stays away from the mentor word in thank-you emails too. Sometimes he will say “thank you for your mentorship” or “your counsel is incredibly helpful,” but never anything too binding. Use your own judgement, based on the people you are talking to – some will like clear objectives and others will prefer more fluidity. It’s best to start with a no-strings-attached approach.


“Relationships are like a plant,” Nejeed says. He knows it’s his responsibility to engage his mentors in order to nurture those connections, not the other way around, so he always makes it a point to reach out to them.

Nejeed speaks with almost all of his mentorship-figures biannually, and 10 to 15 mentors on a monthly basis. He also prefers to not contact his mentors by text or email. “I like to sit down with as many of my mentors as possible, and look them in the eye, which is great. So much of the wisdom they share isn’t just about the words they’re saying.”


Even when in-person meetings are not possible, Nejeed still takes a proactive but fluid approach. With his pro bono advisory board at Keela, he doesn’t schedule a monthly or quarterly meeting for the sake of updating them. Nejeed keeps his advisors engaged by reaching out to them on a regular basis with very specific questions. “We rarely ever just check in. It is almost always centered around an issue or a question we have.”


So you got that first meeting, or you are on that call with one of your mentors. Now what? First, “be respectful” like a student would be in class: “People like to talk, so ask them, ‘What do you think about this?’ and then zip your mouth and listen. Take notes and just listen.” Nejeed stays old school, and brings a notebook and a pen to take notes like crazy: “I always have a list of questions or talking points, but as soon as I get them on a roll, I just take my pen and paper and physically take notes.”


“I have a habit of collecting mentors,” Nejeed laughs. He even admits to having a mentor table at his wedding! If there is one thing to take away from his success – it’s that teachers are needed, and that we should never stop building bridges and nurturing new relationships.

This article originally appeared in Rank & File Magazine Issue No. 4.

Rank & File is a digital publication for purpose-driven entrepreneurs who believe people are worth serving and business can create change.  Get Rank & File for Free.