It’s all about Connections
by Sonja Neiger, Director, Women’s Leadership Institute
Connections - providing opportunities for professional women to develop learning relationships with one other
We’ve all heard the old adage: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That may be true, but who you know can also help you know a whole lot more.
In the not-so-distant past, women were told “Find a mentor to get ahead.” We all know that Mentors, traditionally, are the seasoned sages guiding younger protégés along. Mentors invest time and energy into passing along their wisdom; Protégés soak up every bit of it. The problem with this model is that it assumes only one person in the relationship has something to offer – the Mentor. It also requires a significant investment of the Mentor’s time for the protégé to derive maximum value. Finally, with this model, it’s almost as if we are creating a boundary; once you have “arrived,” you don’t need mentoring any longer; you should switch and assume the mentoring role and are no longer the protégé. What if there’s a different way?
The Mentoring Committee of BPW, Raleigh, thinks there is a different way – dare we say, a better way. In 2014/15, we are expanding and re-branding the Mentoring committee to focus on Connections. Instead of mentoring, which carries a heavy connotation, our focus is providing opportunities for professional women to develop learning relationships with one other. We believe that all women in our organization, whether seasoned professionals in industry, ambitious entrepreneurs, dedicated veterans, or new graduates, have knowledge and skills that are useful to share. We also ascribe to lifelong learning – the idea that all of us have something to learn, no matter how experienced we are in our careers.
Research shows that Connections are especially important to women because we derive more learning through relationships than men do. When a woman receives a bit of advice from a trusted person, she is likely to learn and apply the lesson; conversely, a man is more likely to learn through experiencing a situation. In a real world context, women do better when primed for a learning experience with nuggets of advice, like “When you jump in the pool, move your arms and legs so you don’t drown!” Sure, we have to jump in the pool to learn, but we’re more apt to absorb useful advice from others and put it into action. Men, generally, don’t learn in this way. They say “yea, yea, I got this,” jump into the pool, and figure it out (quickly, before they drown).
Does this ring true in your experience of how women learn? If so, the implications for your own learning are significant and optimistic. It means that you have a greater capacity to leverage learning from trusted advisors. Collecting and applying wisdom from others not only develops your confidence before you jump into new experiences, but it also helps you avoid the more painful option – trial and error. Learning through relationships also means that you don’t necessarily need to look for people who have more experienced than you are, which can be especially difficult if some of our long-term members; you simply need to find people you trust who have something to offer that you value. Likewise, if you are junior in your career, you have learning to offer others. You don’t need to wait until you accumulate years of credibility to share your valuable insights.
As we move into 2014/15, think about what is missing that would accelerate your career. Think, too, of what you can give back. In 2014/15, it’s all about Connections – to learn, to contribute, through learning relationships with each other.
Need to know what your unique strengths and talents are that you can share with others? Come to our next meeting on November 18.
For more about the Connections committee, stay tuned for more blogposts, an on-line toolkit, and an event on January 15.