MyOdyssey: It Takes Two to Tango

01/05/2015
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On April 23 I had the honor to facilitate the launch of a new group of mentees during the kick-off of the 6th edition of the MyOdyssey mentoring program for women in leadership. A former mentee myself, I could see the spark in the eyes of the new participants and the hope that this program will take them further on their career and life path. There was, however, something that wasn’t so obvious from the start: that the key for a successful journey was, in fact, in their own hands. 

I joined MyOdyssey in 2011 in a moment in my life when I couldn’t see my road clearly.

A year before I had decided to quit the media world and with it a big part of my heart and my identity. I had started my own company, Media Education CEE. Regardless of the fact that I had no entrepreneurial experience before, I had now a large office in Prague 1, one employee and five interns. I had also just been elected the president of the board of the Czech PR Klub, an NGO.

It felt like all paths were possible and open ahead of me. Yet, which one to take? 

I decided to ask for help and join MyOdyssey. To my great joy, I was selected and assigned a mentor who was a woman entrepreneur herself. Katie Schoultz, a British lawyer with an impressive track record, had launched her own legal practice Schoultz & Partners in 2007. As her children were born, Katie got more and more engaged in the local community – when we met she was running not one, but two nurseries.

I made a plan of topics and we started meeting. During our talks we went through business, the challenges of running a company when all hell of the economic crisis was breaking loose in the Czech Republic, the challenges of motherhood and, overall, of a woman who strives to lead an accomplished life in line with her values. I learnt enormously from Katie – not just from her practical experience. Mostly I learnt observing her and seeing her struggles.

The path ahead of me was getting clearer – even though not easier. 

After finishing our program I decided to remain part of the MyOdyssey alumni for several reasons.

One is that we, women, need a close circle of inspiring women friends more than anything. You do know, I guess, that it’s enough for three women to meet and our bodies start releasing the oxytocine hormone, a trigger of relaxation, joy and inner peace. More, I felt that we, the former alumnae, we own the program and its organizers at least this: to be available to share our experience with the future generations of women. It’s been a journey – and it’s far from the end.

Here is what I’ve learnt in my year of mentoring and the subsequent four years of listening to other mentees talking about their odyssey:

1. You’re in charge of the plan. 

When you joined the program you must have done it for a reason. Give yourself a few minutes and cut down your desire into 12 concrete themes that you’d like to discuss with your mentor throughout the year. Write down also what you expect to get from each session: advice, mirroring, inspiration, just room to speak and let go? Nail down meetings with your mentor at least 6 months ahead. Make sure that, as a meeting approaches you double-check if the mentor still has it on the agenda. Be flexible: if the mentor needs to change the location or the means of running the conversation with you (from face-to-face to Skype, for example), go ahead: it’s better to have a 90-minute Skype than nothing at all.

2. Don’t take it personally. 

All work done for MyOdyssey is voluntary. It does happen that many mentors accept the role because it feels good or because it is socially rewarded. However, these soft rewards may come down hard upon a mentor and clash with their overwhelming daily agenda. Don’t forget: you are in charge of the plan. Don’t take it personally if your mentor doesn’t answer your email or phone call. Try to reach out through his or her assistant and bring the issue up / check with your mentor what the best options are to stay in touch as soon as you meet. Keep a sufficient critical distance and don’t take an immediate lack of feedback personally. If things are going too far for you, however, don’t be afraid to tell your mentor: “I feel confused when I receive no feedback from your side. What can I do to make our relationship work?” And, if it still doesn’t work, ask Bety for a different mentor.

3. You are valuable. 

In line with the thoughts ahead, one of the most important differences between a coaching and a mentoring relationship is that, while in coaching the coach is responsible for setting the parameters of the meeting and the “client” is in charge of looking inside herself and coming up with meaningful answers and solutions to her needs, in mentoring it works a bit differently. The relationship is much more fluid – and thus more tricky. The fact that your mentor is far ahead down the road in one field doesn’t mean that you have nothing to say on the topic or to give your mentor precious feedback. Mentoring is a mutually enriching experience. You can contribute to it by being aware that you matter and that what you bring to the table is valuable. For a mentoring relationship to be healthy it takes two to tango. Make sure you take charge of your part of the dance.

4. It’s a relationship. 

Like in anything that matters, mentoring is a relationship that can last 10 minutes or ages. Be aware of what you bring into your relationship. What makes your relationships work – or crash, for the matter? Bring the same ingredients into your mentoring relationship: awareness, genuine interest, respect and self-respect, fun.

5. Network. 

MyOdyssey exists to bring women together long after their official role is over. I have been a part of the community for the last five years and there are few places in Prague that fill my heart with more meaning and joy than our regular monthly meetings. I can only be grateful to the organizers for allowing the former mentees to join the discussion and for creating opportunities for sharing. This is how we can keep in touch and help each other.

There is also LinkedIn, as a group and an individual platform for communication. Use it wisely. I’ve recently heard from a lady, member of the board of a local bank: “Yes, I am on LinkedIn, but only with my name. I didn’t put any more information about myself there – why should I?

Before I slip into a lecture on personal branding and the importance of LinkedIn in our daily lives allow me to say only this: happiness comes through windows you didn’t even know you left open. Even the most insignificant thing you do for your image and reputation management – you do it for yourself. You never know when you’ll need it later. Why reaching out to people only in times of need and when it hurts (because of the threat of losing a job, for example?) Building a network of supporting people – women – can enrich your spirit right now. It would be foolish to deprive yourself of such joy.

Welcome to MyOdyssey! 

I focus on strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence and personal and organization leadership. I help leaders and future leaders to develop their strategic communication skills, to build reputable personal brands and to boost their team and organizational leadership. I support individuals, teams and organizations through advisory, training, coaching and mentoring services.

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