January 1, 2013

The Buddy System: 5 Reasons to Share your Leadership Journey

 By Lisa Jones

Image property of Empowerment Weekly
Most journeys are better with a companion. Someone to share excitement with, confide in, and keep you on track to your final destination. Why, then, do so many entrepreneurs make their leadership journey a solitary affair? You may be alone at the top of your organization, but you don’t have to be lonely. Whether you are just starting out in a new leadership role, or have been calling the shots for years, now is the perfect time to reconsider how you share your leadership journey. 

Each year at the end of the week-long YouthActionNet retreat, many fellows echo the same sentiment—they learned a lot from trainings, and have many new tools to bring back to their organizations, but it was the time spent and knowledge shared with their peers that made the experience so valuable. 

If you ever find yourself alone at your computer, overwhelmed with decisions to make, you may want to consider these 5 reasons to ‘buddy up’ your leadership journey with a peer mentor.

       1. It’s easy to be honest

You already have people to help hold you accountable for goals you want to accomplish or changes you want to make—donors want reports on your progress, stakeholders want to hear success stories, and staff want to see new initiatives begin. Often, when discussing progress, leaders are inhibited by the impression they want to make on their audience. With a peer, it’s a relief to discuss your progress with someone who holds you accountable, but doesn’t judge you in the process.

        2. Learn from others’ mistakes

Since the peer mentor relationship should be mutual, you will hear about the issues and challenges your peer is dealing with. Knowing about these experiences can help you avoid similar mistakes without having to learn by experience. Thinking through these outside issues also increases your capacity for problem solving within your own organization.

3      3. Confidential Conversations

If you are the head of your organization, there may be situations that aren’t appropriate to share directly with your volunteers or staff. Maybe funding isn’t coming in and you need to reduce salaries, or perhaps there have been complaints against a volunteer. Having a trusted, unbiased person to discuss difficult decisions with can prove invaluable for both your sanity and the future of your organization.

        4. Outside Perspectives

While you and your team are deep in the details of your work, an outsider may be able to offer ideas that never occurred to you, or approach your work from a new angle outside your realm of expertise.

         5. Leading social change can be lonely

Many YouthActionNet fellows have admitted this. They say that sometimes their parents ask them why aren’t you studying to be a doctor? Their friends don’t understand the amount of time and energy they put into their work. Sometimes they wonder if they are doing the right thing with their life. Having a peer mentor reminds you that you are not alone in your doubt, but you are also not alone in your passion. By listening and sharing experiences, you are improving your personal capacity for leadership. You have to be confident in yourself before others are confident in you.

Now that you are convinced on the benefits of sharing your leadership journey, take the first step by reaching out to other social entrepreneurs. Get creative—meet up with peers on message boards, at trainings and conferences, and through social networks. Apply for fellowships where you get to know peers on a deeper level and can find a mentor you trust to push you to better yourself. The YouthActionNet fellowship is the perfect place to start. Applications open in February—learn more.
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