Did you know that according to this 2011 Linked In survey of 1,000 women professionals, while 80% said having a mentor was important, only 20% actually had a mentor? In my work as an executive coach and speaker, I notice how easy it is for many women to second-guess ourselves. We tend to focus more on our own weaknesses than our strengths. On the other hand, we are often quick to see others’ strengths and have a desire to support them.  So, it’s important for us to come together to support each other in reaching our dreams.

As promised in my earlier post “Why Aren’t There More Women CEO’s“, I will be sharing a series of articles and resources  for leaders who want to start or join a mentoring circle.  This is the first in the series.  Please comment below and let me know what content will be most useful for you.

Why A Mentoring Circle?

Linda Descano, President & CEO of Citibank’s Women & Co says, “I was really surprised by the results of a recent poll conducted on Citi’s Connect: Professional Women’s Network on LinkedIn, which found that half of professional women have never had a mentor – and only 1 in 4 have a mentor that they regularly tap for career advice.  We need to actively seek mentorship opportunities not just for our own professional development, but to pay it forward to those who come after us.”  Starting a mentoring circle is a great way to grow as a leader because you learn and practice influencing and facilitation skills.

Five Steps To Start A Mentoring Circle

1) Clarify Objectives – Start with the end in mind.  Clarify your own motivation to start a mentoring circle. Which of these apply to you?

  • Do you want to give back?
  • Do you want to start an accountability group that will help everyone meet their objectives?
  • Do you want to learn from others’ expertise? What kind of expertise are you looking for?
  • What is your mentoring circle going to do for its members?

2) Identify like-minded individuals – Once your preliminary objectives are clear, identify the people who are inspired by and will help you fulfill the objectives.  These could be individuals in your workplace or your community. Although the group can be bigger or smaller, typically you will want to keep the group to 5-10 people so each person has a chance to share challenges and learnings in each meeting.

3) Convene an exploratory meeting – For those people who are interested in learning more convene an initial meeting. This will help you all align on the objectives and it will help you get clarity and perhaps even shape the objectives to make them meaningful for the group. In the exploratory meeting, plan to discuss:

  • each person’s objectives and desired outcomes and how the mentoring circle will meet them
  • how often you want to meet (generally most groups like this meet once a month)
  • Meeting logistics – where, when, how long, topics to be discussed
  • Rules of engagement (see below)

4) Develop rules of engagement – Most groups like this want to discuss the following and develop their own rules:

  • Criteria for entry into and exit from the circle
  • Rules of confidentiality and how it will be enforced
  • Responsibilities of facilitator and team members
  • Group culture needed to help the group achieve its goals
  • How you will handle disagreements

5) Expect and overcome challenges – Any time a new group comes together there is a group development process that happens.  To be successful and sustain itself the group will face challenges.  Here’s the four step process:

  • Forming – the group comes together and starts to operate. In the early stages difficult issues are not surfaced.
  • Storming – the group faces challenges and surfaces difficult issues which strengthen trust
  • Norming – the group operates at a “norm” level in terms of meeting goals
  • Performing – the group starts to drive breakthrough performance

What’s next in this series? “How to Lead a Great Mentor Circle Session”.  What’s after that is up to you. So comment below and send me your input. Or contact me through the contact form.

If this resonated for you, please comment, subscribe and share with others.

Showing 6 comments
  • Eva Bradley

    Do you have any suggestions or tips for how to develop sponsorship circles? I think that the next step in developing women in key leadership roles depends on our ability to identify and solicit the support of sponsors.

    • Henna

      Hi Eva –

      Thanks for joining the conversation. You’re right, sponsorship is absolutely critical to getting women leaders ahead. I will be posting a blog post on this topic in a couple of weeks so stay tuned. While mentors give you advice, sponsors use their own political clout and reputation to get you opportunities, promotions and exposure.

      In traditional organizations, sponsors are often 1-2 levels up in the organization from where their proteges are so likely will not be candidates for the same mentoring circle. However, that does not preclude people within the mentoring circle to help create opportunities for each other. I have many people that are part of an informal circle with me, where the lines between mentor and sponsor blend and we tell each other about opportunities, we use our platforms to create exposure for each other, etc.

      Keep the dialogue going!

  • Sarah

    Henna, i was recently involved in developing a mentoring program at my company and find this article very helpful in defining the mentoring cicles in the Women in Business group that i am a part of, will certainly be putting it into practice!

    • Henna

      Hi Sarah – Thanks for your feedback. As you develop the mentoring circle, please share your insights on other blog post topics that will be useful to you and your circle members in meeting your goals.

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