One of my favorite children’s stories is Seven Blind Mice. I was rearranging my bookshelf last week and I reread the story for the first time in many years. It struck me that this familiar tale offers some valuable lessons about an increasingly popular form of mentoring, the board of directors (sometimes referred to as mosaic mentoring).
Let’s recap the story first, just in case you get confused about your elephant and mouse stories. The story I am referring to is the one about seven different-colored blind mice who set about investigating “a strange Something” by their pond. Each mouse, in turn, ventures out one by one to discover what the “strange Something” could be. Each comes back with a different thought about what it is. The seventh mouse explores the complete “Something” and, in the process, discovers that the “Something” is actually an elephant, a conclusion she couldn’t have come to without the input of the other mice. The story concludes with a moral: “Knowing in part may make a fine tale, but wisdom comes from seeing the whole.”
The board of directors (“BOD”) has the advantage of providing multiple perspectives and diverse feedback from a variety of mentors serially or simultaneously. It offers a 360◦ perspective that fast tracks the learning. It exponentially clarifies, broadens, deepens and expands a mentee’s thinking. The synergy and excitement that takes place among mentors when they share their wisdom is energizing for mentees and mentors alike.
Having diverse and multiple mentors with different backgrounds, experiences and ideas can guide you to new discoveries, facilitate your growth and development as a leader, enhance your capability and expand your capacity as a leader. This model is not for everyone but it is for you if prepare yourself, carefully select your mentors, set the tone at the first meeting, create momentum, and commit to the relationship.
Make sure that you make the time to reflect on your purpose for creating a BOD. Clarify your own goals, objectives and intention. Consider what it is you are willing to contribute to the relationship. Be willing to candidly share your needs, expectations and limits. Identify the characteristics you are looking for in each of your BOD mentors. In doing so, reflect on your past mentoring relationships and what was most helpful to you.
Seek out and recruit multiple mentors to help you achieve your specific goals. You will want to make sure your choose mentors who will challenge your thinking and encourage you to raise the bar on your own growth and development. In addition to the characteristics you identify, you will want to consider if your mentors individually and collectively have the expertise, experience, time and willingness to help you achieve your learning goals. Make sure that you make your final selection whether or not you feel there is a good learning fit, not on the basis of chemistry.
Set the Tone
You should plan on meeting with your BOD regularly. They will be looking to you to manage the learning process, arrange and host the meetings. You will want to get them invested in shared accountability for the learning process and achievement of desired results.
It is important that you create the right climate at the first meeting. Mentors need to get to know one another and understand what each brings to the table. Carefully orchestrate this process in a way that thoughtfully and respectfully honors confidentiality and creates value for your mentors.
Satisfaction and success for everyone is increased when your BOD mentors have a firm understanding of your desired outcomes. Allot adequate time to clarify your learning goals and needs. Clarify ground rules, boundaries and expectations. Once the deliverables are agreed upon, establish specific processes and procedures for monitoring progress and measuring results. Collaboratively develop a work plan.
Your mantra throughout the BOD process should be, “communicate, communicate, communicate.” Make sure that you update your BOD on your progress and provide them with feedback as to what is working for you and what is not. Express your appreciation and let them know how you are applying what it is you are learning. Use their time well and provide background material in advance of meetings.
Your relationship with your BOD mentors will change once the mentoring relationship ends. You may decide to continue the relationship on an ad hoc basis or continue to connect informally. Once you have redefined your relationship, it is time to “let go” of the relationship as it was and embrace it as it will be.
A mentoring BOD provides a special kind of wisdom comes that from seeing the whole. Perhaps you will want to consider it as a way to further develop yourself as a leader.
Lois Zachary is the President of Leadership Development Services, LLC. and an international expert on mentoring and leadership development. She has written several books on mentoring. The newest one is The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships. Other books include Creating a Mentoring Culture: The Organization’s Guide, and The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You.