Mentoring is one of the most powerful pathways to small business success. Vital Voices, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women around the globe, has trained and mentored 7,000 emerging women leaders from over 127 countries. In turn, these women have gone back home and mentored 200,000 additional women and girls. This cycle produces a profound effect, allowing women in once-remote villages to start businesses that sell products around the world.
Over the coming weeks in OPEN Forum, the women of Vital Voices will share their business success stories. These women have provided me with valuable lessons about mentoring and leadership that are applicable to any businessperson:
Tap into the power of experience – leverage mentoring. Entire generations of women have achieved great success through mentoring and are anxious to give back. Whether you seek a mentor – or want to become one – there are many successful women ready to help. There are also new ways, like social networks, to connect with mentoring resources.
Take lessons from mistakes. One of the most important attributes of being a good mentor is willingness to admit mistakes and share them. This takes courage, empowers the mentees to learn from their experiences and helps remove any fear of failure. My experience is that you learn as much from what others have done wrong as what they have done right; share these lessons and build upon them. In the same way, when your employees or colleagues make mistakes, do not dwell on errors, but encourage them to try again – that is true leadership.
Pay it forward. Leadership isn’t just about gaining personal skills – great leaders also transfer those skills to others. The concept of “paying it forward” means bringing learnings back to educate and empower others. In the same way, you gain the most benefits from mentoring if you look at it as a constant circle, where both mentor and mentee give and receive. Redefine and practice mentorship as a win-win partnership that contributes to everyone’s business success. You will hear more about this in an upcoming article about a Guatemalan leader who not only founded a small business in her country, but now trains and mentors other women to do the same, resulting in many families and whole villages being raised out of poverty.
Leadership is about small, daily decisions. Leadership should not only be about big, strategic actions. Real leadership is about the decisions you make on a daily basis and how such decisions can positively impact your community. As a business person, you can define your own leadership style. Great leaders help their employees to see that any job has leadership potential and outline the necessary steps to reach this goal. This encouragement will contribute to both your employee and business’s success.
Find “underinvested opportunities.” Around the world, women are the underinvested opportunity. There is a direct correlation between investing in women and girls and poverty alleviation, a decrease in government corruption and greater general prosperity. You can profit by taking this view with your own business and looking for your underinvested opportunities. For instance, explore employee’s talents that have yet to be recognized. Consider new markets in the world that would welcome your products.
Create cumulative power through networks. Global networks allow women to join together and address barriers to their economic success in ways that an individual person or single small businesses cannot do alone. In the same manner, any small business can use social networks to connect with other businesspeople around the world, using your aggregate power to create new possibilities. Remember: the ease of making connections today allows a small business to quickly forge larger alliances, enabling global competition.
This mentoring/leadership formula is not complicated, but the effect is profound. Please return to Open Forum over the coming weeks and learn how the women of Vital Voices have forged creative paths to tremendous business success. For now, I encourage you to visit www.vitalvoices.org, subscribe to our newsletter, and learn how you can take part in women's political, economic and social advancement.
Alyse Nelson is CEO of Vital Voices, the preeminent non-governmental organization that identifies, invests in and brings visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.
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