In Power Circles

Ever consider group coaching or mentoring to engage and grow leaders in your organization? When women come together in a circle miracles happen. Communities prosper. Women are empowered. Change happens for the better. Whatever we can envision together, we can make happen together. This is my belief. It is also part of our DNA and how our brains evolved. Research shows that women tend to best cope with stress by “tending and befriending” vs. the “fight or flight” response experienced by men.  In our early history we gathered together around fires, sharing stories to teach and pass along wisdom, to support each other, to participate in rituals and rites of passage, to celebrate life and death. 

Now we gather together in conference rooms, online communities, Starbucks, and church basements to connect, to relate, share hobbies, and to work on common goals.  It could be for mentoring, for a cause we believe in, or simply to lose weight.  Circles are part of our DNA.  Thanks to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In Circles” are everywhere. In my coaching work, I often work with organizations to help them to get group coaching and mentoring circles started.  The objective of a mentoring circle is for a group of leaders to come together to help each other grow in their leadership, and support each other to meet goals.

Here are five rules for leading a successful mentoring circle (thanks to the persistence of Colleen, one of our blog community participants who asked for this).

1)  Start by getting present. We are often running from meeting to meeting without time to go to the bathroom (okay, that’s my life anyway!). Whether it’s our minds or our electronic devices, we’re on 24/7 and multi-tasked most of that time.  A mentor circle is a great way for us to take a deep breath and get truly present with one another.  Consider a ritual that will help you get present. It could be as simple as shutting off devices and taking a deep breath and making eye contact and warmly welcoming one another. Ask if someone needs to share something to get completely present. Getting present helps us listen and connect better.

2)  Engage everyone on the shared intention for the meeting. Sometimes mentor circles have pre-agreed topics they want to discuss (e.g. how to influence powerfully). Other times, individual members take turns bringing a topic to the discussion. Establish up-front what your goals are for this session.  Ask each individual what’s important to them about this topic and what they want to learn. This helps all participants engage in the discussion, both sharing their wisdom and learning from others.

3) Create an environment of trust and learning Your group has likely agreed prior (see this blog post) on the behaviors and group norms that will create a trusting and learning environment. If necessary, remind people about the confidentiality rules you have agreed.

4) Deepen the learning.  When I facilitate mentoring circles, there are many behaviors that forward the connection, trust, as well as the richness of the dialogue that I help the group learn and practice.  These behaviors help us not only create a rich mentoring circle but also help us become better leaders. They include:

  • Asking powerful questions
  • Acknowledging and championing people’s contributions to the discussion
  • Helping the group to see different perspectives on the same topic without judgment
  • Listening with empathy

5) Acknowledge and get feedback. Be sure to reserve ten minutes at the end of the agenda to have each person acknowledge others in terms of the value they added to the discussion.  Get feedback on how this discussion helped to further the mission of the group and what you learned about how to do this even better for the future.

Connect with me if you would like to start a mentoring circle in your organization.  Mentor circles not only grow leaders and help people achieve goals, they create an environment of greater employee engagement.  According to Gallup, one of the key drivers to employee engagement is “having people at work who care about my development”.  My coaching work includes helping organizations get these off the ground and helping them become sustainable communities that create engagement, transformation and positive change in your organization.

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

Showing 2 comments
  • Jackie Hinton

    love your site, I am in the throus of being my own woman leader.Starting with beingt in a leanin circle. Keep up the wonderful work.

  • Keri Saunders O'Brien

    I have been in a mentoring circle for several years now. It is one of the most empowering experiences! There are four of us in our group and not one of us EVER misses a meeting. It has become a cornerstone for each of us. It is personally and professionally transforming. Great topic! Thanks for sharing.

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