By: Rachael Bosch
When we think of the myriad ways to advance our careers, one tool constantly comes up: mentorship. Recently the conversation about mentorship has been elevated to discuss its big sibling, sponsorship. While both mentors and sponsors are immensely beneficial in navigating your career I have found an additional path for professional support: the squad. Last year, I signed up to participate in what was then the second round of squad groups being developed through the Ellevate Network. I would be grouped with women in the network I had never met before and our objective was to support, engage, challenge, and connect. Honestly, it seemed like an impossible task but I dove in headfirst and what happened next was magical.
Our squad consists of women in many different industries. We have a business strategist and brand consultant, as well as a founder of a self-care subscription box (seriously, why aren’t there more of these?!). One of our members teaches at a business school while running a company designed to help mothers apply business tactics to their busy, unruly lives. Another is a workplace communications speaker and coach, and rounding out the squad are two founders who help communicate stories for other companies in the science and healthcare arena as well as the world of associations, NGOs and other businesses. Suffice to say, we are a diverse group!
Ellevate Squads were designed to be weekly 30-minute video calls. Within the first few calls, our group could not get off the video! We were having so much fun engaging with each other that we began to stretch our half hour call to an hour and eventually we scheduled an entire day with each other! We know that not all squads are formal; sometimes you just create a go-to network, your personal Board of Directors. Squads can be as unique and interesting as the people that make them up. That being said, we seem to have hit on something that worked. So I went to the squad to ask them a few questions about what made our group work so well and some consistent themes started to arise. The thoughts below are a compilation of responses from our squad.
Connection over networking
There’s a stark difference between networking and cultivating friendships, and what started with an intention to network with our squad quickly took the form of friendship when we began meeting up for coffee, prosecco, or to help one another with business-related tasks. Creating genuine connections by learning about the other women without a care as to how it would benefit ourselves was a turning point in our group. It led to a feeling of support, instead of the expectation of a quid-pro-quo.
Honesty over perfection
From the very beginning, our squad has been candid and vulnerable in an effort to grow. This willingness to take off the “perfect image” and to ask for help and support has been critical to our individual and collective growth. No one is trying to impress the others; we are simply existing and supporting. When we wear the mask of perfection, not only do others feel they have nothing to add, we often create a feeling of unease (dare I say, unworthiness) in the people around us. By eliminating this feeling our squad created space for each other’s growth.
A big part of what makes this squad work so well is our unspoken but shared commitment to getting as much value out of this experience as we can. With that mindset, we’re also committed to infusing as much value as we can into it. One squad member said it perfectly: “In tennis, you get better when you’re playing against someone who’s better than you. I look for the same thing with my networks — surrounding myself with people who have something to teach me.” It can be challenging to get unbiased guidance from people in your life, because what you do might impact them. But with the squad, we truly have each other’s best interest in mind, and only that.
[Related: How to Network with Intention]
Give what you want to get
Embrace vulnerability and authenticity. Be you. Ask for what you need. Give what you can. Don’t let the boundaries of the call define the squad — bring it to life with true human connection. You have to assume (and trust) that when people recognize your caliber, enthusiasm, and generosity, they’ll want to match that — even if it means elevating themselves to do so. As with any relationship, your experience with a squad is only as good as the effort you put into it. A squad is designed for the benefit of all members, so trust and a lack of self-interest is critical to success.
Whether you have an opportunity to get involved with a formal squad, or you find your own along the course of your professional path, engaging with and utilizing a group like this can have a positive impact on your career in ways you may not have been able to imagine without them. This has certainly been true for us!
Photos: Lauren Louise Photography
Rachael Bosch is the Managing Director at Fringe Professional Development. This post was written with help by her squad: RM Harrison, Sharon Podobnik Peterson, Nicole Coomber, Lissette Steele, and Miranda Carland Barrett.
Originally published at www.ellevatenetwork.com.