As an executive coach I collaborate with leaders, so they can identify their resources and design action steps that work. I often raise this question, “Who can help you with that?”. This question can surprise my clients, if they face barriers to receiving help. A few leaders may not want to acknowledge they need help. Some leaders don’t know what type of assistance they need. Many leaders don’t have anyone in their sphere willing or able to help. Mentoring is a meaningful way to overcome that last barrier, the lack of trusted and experienced people-resources in your corner.
The Mentoring Constellation
Classically defined, a mentor is an experienced professional who works with a less experienced protégé to provide guidance, access to professional networks, resources and support. In this relationship the experienced mentor serves as consultant, counselor, and cheerleader to a protegee.
If you are a mentor, you may act as subject matter expert, advisor, teacher, coach or confidant. Your mentor relationship may occur during weekly check-in conversations, meeting on purpose on a monthly rhythm, or connecting when needed over a lifetime. The essence of a mentoring relationship is mutual trust and rapport, and purposeful intentionality. Do you have a mentoring relationship established with a more experienced leader? If so, you are off to a good start. If not, who comes to mind as someone you respect, admire, and want to emulate? How will you invite this mentor into a relationship with you?
Many effective leaders invest time and energy to develop a “constellation” of mentoring relationships around them, knowing an intentional investment in the right people provides connection and meaning that will sustain them through time. Creating a network of connections makes effective leaders not only stronger, but better positioned to effectively contribute to the growth of others. What would it mean to you if you expanded your definition of mentor to include a more multi-faceted approach?
The Sky is the Limit
Where to begin? In addition to securing a mentor for yourself, consider adding an internal peer mentor (from your organization or industry), an external peer mentor (from outside your organization or industry), and an emerging leader to your constellation. Can you envision this exceptional network of mentors who balance you with wisdom because they’ve gone before you, who challenge you with new thoughts because they are rising behind you, and those who understand you because they share your journey? Giving and receiving occurs in each of these relationships. Your leadership will be strengthened as you create an array of relationships that is recognizable for its exceptional collaboration and vitality.
Get the Dynamics Right
As you build your constellation, keep these dynamics in mind:
- Mentoring is a relationship built on rapport and trust. As you choose a person for a mentoring relationship, consider whether you have genuine rapport. Plan how you will encourage trust to develop. Decide up front how you will handle confidential information and accountability.
- Different expectations in a mentoring relationship can lead to confusion and disappointment, so clarify the purpose and goals of the relationship as you begin.
- Discuss the desired regularity and duration of your relationship, keeping in mind that most mentoring relationships have a life-cycle with a beginning, middle and end point.
- In the middle of the mentoring relationship, evaluate how you are doing. Are both parties receiving and giving value? Does it make sense to continue?
- When it is time to conclude a mentoring relationship, create a way to celebrate the wins and bring closure to your time together.
Now when you face leadership opportunities and challenges, those in your constellation of mentoring relationships will be ready and willing to assist. Take the initiative today and begin to invite mentors and protegees to walk alongside you. Be deliberate and strategic in your choices, as you design a varied array of relationships where both giving and receiving are the norm. As you set your mentoring constellation in place, your way will be more illuminated and you will have a solid answer in the future for the question, “Who can help you with that?”