There is lots of research to show the benefits of finding a mentor. A mentor can help guide you through difficult workplace challenges, advocate for you, connect you with others and be your personal cheerleader.
But what do you do if you can’t find a mentor? It’s hard to find someone senior enough to have wisdom and with the time to impart that wisdom. And if you’re looking for a woman mentor to help you navigate some of the challenges in agriculture specific to women, good luck! With few women in leadership positions, finding a wise woman who also has the time to mentor you is about as easy as finding a unicorn.
The Ag Women’s Network discussion on Community this past month has me thinking about my own community and the alternatives I have come up within my own community to a conventional mentor. How can we harness the power of community to find similar benefits that mentors bring when a traditional mentor isn’t available?
Over the course of the past 3 years, I have been using the collective advice and support of a group of women as my personal Mentor Squad. These women all work in varying sectors and at all levels of the industry. I never consciously thought of these women as my mentors, but rather as friends. Instead, the mentorship aspect of our friendship just sort of happened. As we chat about our lives, as friends do, we tackle lots of issues related to our careers. We have helped each other search for new jobs; we’ve encouraged each other to try new and bigger projects; we’ve celebrated each other’s successes and we’ve helped each other deal with failure.
When you look at it objectively, we’ve successfully crowd-sourced one whole mentor from the power of our combined experience. None of us are high powered executives (yet) and none of us have decades of experience (although some of us are past the one decade mark). But, between us we have a whole lot of experience and even more passion to see each other succeed.
I think there are a few foundational practices that make our Mentor Squad successful.
We meet in-person. Time is a scarce resource but we make an effort to have lunch together once a month. Some months not everyone can make it and other months it’s just a quick bite as we all rush back to work. But, this regular contact helps us stay up-to-date on what’s new with each other.
We stay in touch in between lunches. Our on-going email thread gives approximately equal space to time-sensitive questions, interesting articles and funny memes from the internet.
We have one-on-one relationships. While the 5 of us get together often, we also have individual relationships with each other. We all have different strengths and we use those as much as we use the power of the Squad.
We respect each other’s boundaries. Some of us work for competitors and we’re always careful to keep conversations focused on our personal careers while leaving out all company specifics.
We’re not exclusive. We all have other, similar relationships with other people in the industry. Peer Mentoring is not a zero-sum game; you cannot have too many!
We have fun. The Mentor Squad is not all about work. We make plenty of time for humour and fun (see above mention of our Caption Contests).
Even if you can successfully find a true mentor, I highly recommend leaning on the power of community and cultivating a Mentor Squad.