Mentor Magic: Building Your Leadership Support NetworkJan 31, 2023
VICTORIA BROWN | FEBRUARY 2023
Building your support network as a leader is like fortifying yourself for your career ahead - because being a leader isn't an easy job. It's challenging, and demanding and can be super hard IF you don't set yourself up for success.
Your support network will help you see other perspectives, gather supportive feedback and help build your professional network. They can also provide emotional support and during times of ambiguity and stress - helping build your confidence and resilience and making sure you NEVER feel alone.
Your Leadership Support Squad
👑 A COACH // This is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself and your career. A coach will help you find perspective in any situation that you’re in, can help recommend ways to think and new ways to approach or look at a situation. A coach should be experienced and accredited in educating others, as this will usually be their main role.
A coach is usually external to your business and team, and is invested in only YOU and your career, so you know the feedback is coming with the intention to help you be a better leader and there are no other agendas at play.
❤️🔥 PEERS // By surrounding yourself with other leaders, you create a community where you can learn and share together. This can be in the form of a leadership group coaching format, a mastermind or a more casual meet up.
🚀 MENTORS // Mentors are people who have skills and/or experience that you are inspired by. The purpose of a mentor is that they share their experience with you in the hopes that you can learn from it. They can also provide you with advice or guidance. A mentor isn't someone whose sole purpose is growing other talent, they will typically have a full time role as something else and will take on mentees as part of their own professional development and being able to help grow future talent.
Mentors help build your confidence, help you problem solve, expand your network and can provide you with feedback on your strengths and opportunities.
Mentors: Two Types
Internal Mentors: someone from within your business who mentors you.
The benefits of an internal mentor are:
- Career advancement: when you have someone in the business who understands how you think, can see that you're ambitious because you have them as a mentor and knows what your passionate about - this can be hugely beneficial for your career. This internal mentor can advocate for opportunities for you behind the scenes and can even let you know of opportunities in advance.
- Broaden your skill set: having a mentor from another business unit can help you broaden your understanding of the business and add to your skill set and how you think. This helps you to make more informed decisions and set yourself apart from others by being able to see more perspectives.
External Mentors: someone outside your business who mentors you.
The benefits of an external mentor are:
- Networking: mentors are usually happy to open up their personal network to you if you need connections and can also help with your career advancement as they may recommend you for opportunities once they know more about you.
- Unbiased view: an external mentor won't be swayed by any politics or cliques within your business and can bring you a fresh viewpoint to help see through roadblocks and challenges.
How to ask someone to be your mentor
- Research them. Find the right person. You can search on LinkedIn by job title, or perhaps a business or brand that you're really inspired by. What you're looking for is someone with the experience and chops to actually help you out. Make a list of people that you think can bring value to you, and make notes against each of their names with specific things that you like about them, what they've done, experience you're interested in (you'll need these notes for your ask).
- Connect. Connect with them on LinkedIn, or better yet, do you have someone that could connect you? You can see if someone is in your 2nd or 3rd network - find how you're connected and ask for an introduction.
- Make your ask.
- For an internal mentor, I'd recommend clearing this with your manager first. You can talk to them about your reasons for wanting an internal mentor and perhaps ask for their thoughts on who would be suitable - they also know you and can make recommendations on who you might get along well with.
- For an external mentor, you can either ask for a quick coffee or zoom to connect with them and make your ask in person OR just be direct and request it. I'd recommend stating clearly what you're looking for e.g. 6 x 1 hour mentoring sessions across the year so they know what they might be agreeing to.
- The bigger or more 'famous' someone is, the more difficult it can be to get on their radar but always shoot your shot! You never know - I know first hand that some of the most well known personalities will usually have a few slots a year for mentorships and it's just up to who asks them. In. your note, make it personal, talk about why you're drawn to them (thank you to past you and your notes!) and why you think you'd be a good fit together.
How to make your mentorship successful
- Have clear boundaries. Be upfront with the cadence and format of your catch ups. The most common are monthly or every second month for an hour or 90 minutes per session and this is what you'd normally agree to as part of your request. In your first discussion, I'd recommend setting up some other boundaries for example is there anything they'd (or you'd) prefer to not speak about? If you need guidance between sessions are you able to reach out or would they prefer you keep to the sessions. Remember that mentorships are typically free, so as long as you both agree on the boundaries
- Show your growth. Part of the reason that your mentor will accept your request is because they will be passionate about helping nurture talent - so they will be wanting to watch you grow as part of what they'll get out of the partnership. When you share a challenge in a mentoring session then collaboratively discuss solutions and ways forward - can you image how frustrating it will be for your mentor to see you in your next session and you bring up the same challenge again and have taken no action towards solving it? It might start to feel like a waste of both of your time.
- Talk about your success (not just your challenges). Remember, this mentor can also be a great source of opportunities for you down the track, so while you share challenges and ask for support, don't be shy to talk about your wins and successes as well.
- Show your gratitude. If your mentor is giving you their time for free, just little acts of gratitude can go a long way, here's some ideas:
- A thank you email or text after each session referring to something that really resonated with you from your discussion to show how much you value your time together and that you're actually taking it in.
- Buying their coffee in the sessions - simple.
- Sending a thank you gift and the start or the end of the mentorship. At the start can be a nice way to set up the relationship, show how excited you to spend some time together. At the end is a nice way to wrap it up.
- Use your critical thinking skills. Your mentor is a human being, likely to look at life through their own lens built up from years of experience.This might include unconscious bias or agendas that aren't aligned to you and your goals. Your mentor also typically has another job, and isn't a full time coach or mentor so while we always assume the best of others, they may not be an expert at guiding or giving advice. That's why it's important to always listen carefully, be respectful and curious about the advice they provide but ALWAYS think it through from your own perspective. Do you agree with this? Why or why not? What is useful for you here? In the end, it's only advice, and you choose whether or not to do anything with it. I only want you to take action on something that you truly stand behind.
- Be planned. Make the most of your time with your mentor by setting up a shared document where you can track meeting notes, set meeting agendas and take note of any action points. This will be your document to own and update but it shows a level of professionalism and care for the partnership - and also allows your mentor to prepare for your sessions if there are specific topics or challenges you want to raise. For your internal mentor, just be mindful of how explicit you are in this document especially if you are talking about specific people or challenges within your business.
You're an ABSOLUTE LEGEND for being so invested in your growth and I'm wishing you all the best as you build out your support network and bring on a mentor or two for this year - you've got this!
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