Laurie Kimbrel | The Importance of Mentoring and Relationships for Women in Leadership

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Developing strong relationships with other female leaders is of the utmost importance for those who already hold administrative positions and as well as for aspiring leaders.  Women can be a support network for each other and can easily learn from one another, which makes the development of professional relationships with your colleagues and those who work for you is essential.  It’s a mistake to believe that you need to only seek and develop relationships with those in the positions you aspire to.  Good relationships at all levels of a school or district are always helpful.  Make it clear to your colleagues that one of the most essential parts of your relationship is their feedback and pushback on your ideas.  You will perfect the art of leadership if you accept the feedback of those you trust.  Similarly, thoughts and ideas can develop if you are willing to share them with others and accept their feedback.

In addition to the professional relationships that we develop, having good relationships with your colleagues often produces a few lifelong friendships.  The long hours you spend at your job and then the further responsibilities you have at home can make it difficult to develop friendships with women outside the field of education.  When we befriend each other, we start with an already established common interest and a passion for teaching and learning.  I’m proud that some of my best friends are former colleagues.  Developing these types of friendships takes the willingness to take a risk and ask someone to do something with you during their precious free time.  I’m a better person professionally and personally because of my close relationships with several of my former colleagues.

Because women are so significantly underrepresented in educational leadership, the development of mentoring relationships is also extremely important.  Remember, a mentor can be a man or a woman and if we are lucky, we have multiple mentors throughout our careers.  I’ve often heard the advice to find someone you admire and to ask him or her to be your mentor.  I have to admit that I’ve never thought that it works in that way.  My mentoring relationships have always grown naturally with colleagues in my school or district.  I’m quite fortunate that my closest mentor is an amazing female superintendent and while she certainly knows that she fills this role in my life,  I have never asked her pointblank to be my mentor.

Several of my colleagues asked how I developed this mentoring relationship and when I reflect on it, I think it was by being extremely supportive of her leadership.  I took her advice, I implemented the things she requested, and I was her biggest fan with the board of education, teachers and other administrators.  I pushed back on a few of her ideas in private, but not in public.  We discussed personal issues and well as professional, and developed trust over time.

I also can’t stress the importance of giving back by mentoring others.  I have made it clear to the administrators on my team that I am personally invested in their careers and that they can consider me a mentor both while we work together and after.  I feel fortunate to have had several mentors throughout my career and feel that it is my obligation to try and help others succeed as well.  When my mentees experience success, it is also a win for me.

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