It took me 12 long years before I landed my first General Counsel position. I know people who found their way faster to the C-Suite than I did and some who took longer. The truth is there is no one path to the C-Suite.
We are all on a journey. While the path you choose is yours alone, you don’t have to go it alone — whether you’re new to your career field or you’ve practiced for 50 years.
We all need a community that will support us while we are on the journey.
What to look for in a community
Not every community you encounter, however, will be right for you. The characteristics I looked for may help guide your own quest.
I wanted a community:
- That aligned with my values and beliefs.
- Where I was encouraged to speak up and make my opinions known without the fear of retribution.
- Where I was encouraged to speak my truth, but where I would have the opportunity also to hear the stories and the experiences of others.
- Where others showed up for me by taking a stance against negative comments and promoted positivity and authenticity.
- Where the empowered people there lead by example and advocate for others.
- That supported mentorship and sponsorship.
- That supported others by showing appreciation, giving thanks, and offering and accepting compliments.
Often the best communities are not the ones that come ready-made, rather the ones that you build for yourself — one relationship at a time.
Building a community, however, is more than just building a network. For me, networking was just the starting point. Networking is about making connections and establishing relationships; whereas, community building is about cultivating and nurturing relationships. Do both throughout your career.
Over the years, I have spent the time building a community of support, following these principles:
- I supported others during tough times.
- I put my time and energy into the relationships.
- I showed gratitude and did not take others for granted.
- I treated others the way they want to be treated.
- I did not take more than I could give.
More importantly, I believe I was able to build these communities because:
- I do not establish and build relationships only with people I believed could help me in some way. For me, building community was never about just advancing my career objectives. Building community was about surrounding myself with people who were full of promise, positivity and potential.
- I connected with those who were interested in mutually supportive relationships. If I had been out for No. 1, I would not have connected with the people I did. I do not establish and build relationships with only people who looked like me.To grow into a leadership role, recognize the importance of finding common ground with people who are different. When you seek out only those people who look like you, you find yourself in a bubble devoid of wider perspectives, making assumptions and judgements about the world that will only prevent you from being a true leader.
- I established and built strong mentoring relationships both as a mentor and as a mentee. I have sought to mentor and to be mentored throughout my career. Build a community where you experience both. Be wary of mentoring programs where the approach is only one direction, with an individual or a committee matching mentors to mentees. The best relationships come from mentor/mentee relationships that grow organically. Open yourself up to those.
Whatever your goal or objective, I cannot stress enough the importance of community. For me, building a strong community of support was critical for me, professionally and personally. After all, you never know when you might find yourself caught in a recession or a global pandemic, when no one should go it alone.
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