How to Elevate Your Career: Create Your Leadership Support Team

After almost two years in a pandemic, how are you feeling about your career?

You have probably spent a lot of time in remote meetings, working from home, and not being able to have live interactions with colleagues and professional contacts. It can feel frustrating and isolating. And it can lead to burnout. That’s why it helps to have your support team in place to elevate your career and leadership journey. Your support team can help you, whether you are looking to advance your current career, thinking about switching roles, or transitioning to a new career.

Having a support team means that you have trusted advisors to whom you can turn to solve problems, brainstorm solutions, and gain a new perspective when you are stuck.  In addition, your support team is there to cheer you on when you need a boost. And it can help you to stay focused and grounded.

Here are three relationship-based strategies that can help you to find support and take your career to the next level.

Support team tool number one: Find a mentor.

A mentor is an individual who provides professional knowledge, expertise, and perspective to a less-experienced person. A mentor serves as your trusted advisor and support partner. Mentors can provide valuable insider information about a field, answer questions, offer career guidance, and help their mentees to think critically about themselves and their career trajectories. Mentoring relationships are typically unpaid and informal and can last for years.

How do you find a mentor?

First, look for structured mentoring programs. Some organizations have mentoring programs where they pair junior members with senior leaders.

I have had a terrific experience as a mentor in the structured mentoring program at NEW INC at New York’s New Museum. NEW INC is a cultural incubator that brings together boundary-pushing professionals who are inventing new forms and pursuing new models in fields as varied as music, interactive art, fashion, gaming, architecture, film, performing arts, product design, and web development, among others. Members participate in a 12-month program which includes being paired with a mentor. NEW INC has a structured process that involves a speed-dating session and an algorithm-based match. The process worked very well in my case since my mentee is exploring the next phase of their career and I am delighted offer them my experience as a career coach to creatives.

Another way to find a mentor is by reaching out to someone you admire and ask for a meeting! You can do so by sending a short email where you tell the person what you admire about their work, provide some background information on yourself, explain why you would like to work with them, and then ask for a meeting.

In my own case, I became a mentor to someone who reached out to me in 2015 asking if I would be her mentor. Like me, she is a music professor who created a class on music career entrepreneurship and wanted to some guidance on how to teach such a class. She was also interested in my group coaching at Yale and wanted to learn how to run such groups. For her part, she has invited me to guest lecture in her classes. Our relationship has grown and deepened over the year and we are now close colleagues and friends.

Support team tool number two: Form your personal board of directors.

The personal board of directors comes from the business and nonprofit world, where an organization is legally required to have a board of directors to provide guidance and strategic input for optimal functioning of the organization. This concept has been extended to and embraced by individuals who are looking for support and advice from experienced professionals. Whereas a mentor can provide you one set of ideas and experience, your personal board enables you learn from a variety of professionals whose skills and experience complement your own. It also provides different perspectives to broaden your thinking and provide different points of view. You can consult each member of your personal board individually or convene a meeting to solicit the input from all members of your board.

I have my own small group of trusted advisors who come from the worlds of law, education, music performance, publishing, and arts leadership. My husband, a lawyer by training, is the Chairman of my Board!

One of my clients, a early-stage professional musician, took the idea of having a personal board to the next level. Her board consisted of several music professionals, two retired business executives, her childhood best friend and me.  Not only did she form a personal board but she also convened a meeting of her board!  I was honored to be a member of this board and participated in two fascinating meetings.

The first meeting was a general idea-gathering session on how my client could develop her performance career.  The second meeting was a feedback session on her job applications.  In both cases, the different perspectives from her board members resulted in a much bigger conversation than my client had envisioned. She was inspired with the bold and new creative ideas. Most importantly, she felt incredibly supported in her life venture.

Support team tool number three: Hire a coach.

Hiring a coach is another strategy to help elevate your career. The International Coaching Federation, a global organization dedicated to training and credentialing high-level coaches, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.”

A coach is a trusted partner who believes in your success and is there to support your progress towards meaningful goals using a structured process. In contrast to a mentor who provides advice, a coach helps you to tap into your inner wisdom and co-create meaningful goals and an action plan. You can work with a coach through private, one-on-one sessions, or join a coaching group with similarly-situated peers where you work towards similar goals and hold each other accountable. The coach runs the group to ensure progress towards goals and a focused discussion. Whereas working with a private coach provides you with a personalized experience, a coaching group provides the benefit of different insights and creates a supportive community.

As a coach, I have had the privilege of helping hundreds of clients find their paths and take the steps which led them from “good” to “great”!

Which of these strategies appeal to you?

Select one and see how much more energized you will feel with the support of trusted advisors in your life.