Throughout my professional life, a lot has been said and written about how to build our leadership journey and catapult one’s career. While all of them are relevant, my experience has shown me that there is one significant way to do this, and that is by building a healthy, sustainable ecosystem of support.
My success can be attributed in large part to the role that mentors have played in my leadership journey. I got married immediately after my undergraduate program and moved overseas to start a new life. My first job in California had me struggling socially – I was shy and felt overwhelmed by the situation I was in. I was, however, a diligent worker and found comfort in burying myself in work. I would eat my lunch on my desk, while continuing to work, and would not even look up to even make eye contact with anybody.
My boss watched me for a few weeks and then called me into her office for a meeting. She said: You have to make friends, even just one friend. You cannot go on like this, just buried in the work. You will not last and I don’t want to lose you. I urge you to make just one friend.
I did make a friend, and life became so much better for me. I felt supported, more confident and more productive. I appreciate my boss’ wisdom in addressing the fact that I needed to feel a sense of belonging. She could have been content with a young employee who was buried in her work but she knew that it was not sustainable, and therefore not advisable.
Anu Prasad On Importance Of Women Leadership
Through our work, I work with a range of women leaders in the development space and see striking consistencies in how we often approach our work, and careers. Our research on women’s leadership in the development sector showed that over 70% of respondents also stated that they believed a peer network would support their leadership journey. The importance of a network, of a community of fellow women leaders, is unparalleled. This is the network to who you’ll reach out when you’re contemplating your next career move. This is the network you’ll reach out to when you’re keen to learn more about new topics in your field. This is the network you’ll reach out to when you just want to have a chat about the continuing complexities of being a woman at work. This is because having an open space to discuss the nuances of our experiences, and to strategise for change, will not only positively impact your own path, but those of so many women leaders around you.
I thank my boss for those words of wisdom. It also made me want to replicate the same support to younger women who go through similar journeys and the same amount of nervousness as I had experienced.
It need not be just social awkwardness, it could be any self-limiting belief that can hold one back. As the cliche goes, our minds are our prisons. Our research also states that over 50% of respondents cite feelings of such biases, such as imposter syndrome. The impact of these phenomena is manifold, and can fundamentally shape how we view ourselves, our professional relationships, and our career trajectories.
Along with a network, having a senior professional take us under their wing can be transformative, as my experience with my boss was. A mentor can be the sounding board one needs to be able to openly articulate our fears and misgivings. I have many mentors now, and role models I have reached out to learn from for different aspects of my life. People who I feel are better than me in various ways and from whom I can learn things. Not only ex-bosses but also peers, colleagues, and friends. I am also a mentor to a few people and enjoy the process of supporting their learning and leadership journey.
In our work, we see the profound impact mentorship can have on women leaders.
Our research showed that 72.7% of respondents believed that having a mentor would support their leadership development journey. A mentor is someone who is invested in your path and is able to support you through moments of personal & professional questioning. Especially as a woman, when it’s so easy to get caught up in mental traps & imposter syndrome, having an external perspective is invaluable. A guide post, a critical friend, and a champion – a mentor is all those things, and so much more.
All of us have untapped potential within us. A mentor, and a supportive network, can play integral roles in helping you understand yourself and build the courage to reach your full potential.
Anu Prasad is the founder of India Leaders for Social Sector (ILSS) is a non-profit aiming to build the leadership talent and capacity
We request you to support our award-winning journalism by making a financial contribution towards our efforts. Your funds will ensure we can continue to bring you amazing stories of women, and the impact they are making and spotlight half the country's population because they deserve it.