By Sofia Pereira
Sofia Pereira with her mentor Phillis Seawright (2013)
When I was 20 years old, I attended my first state party convention. I was overwhelmed by the thousands of party activists and elected officials all wearing suits and campaign buttons. Off to the side, a Member of Congress I looked up to was standing alone. I told my new (and unofficial) mentor Phillis Seawright, a long-time local party leader, that I wanted to thank him for his advocacy on an issue I cared about, but that I was too nervous. Without hesitation, Phillis gently, but firmly, nudged me towards the Congressman. Now I had no choice but to introduce myself. I ended up having a brief but positive interaction with someone who I wouldn’t have otherwise had the courage to approach, if it weren’t for Phillis. By the way, she also sneakily snapped a picture of the Congressman and me talking. It has been nudges like this throughout my career that helped me to build my confidence and take ownership of my power as a leader.
Seven years later, Phillis went on to be my Campaign Treasurer when I ran for City Council. Over the years, she has been a supportive confidant who offers tough love or a pep talk whenever I need it.
No matter where you are on your political journeys, mentors are an important part of your growth as a leader. We all deserve a Phillis! Below are some tips around finding a mentor:
- Why you should have a mentor:
- Whether you’re just starting out our political journey, feeling stuck, or want to build upon the momentum, there is always a need for a support system. Family and friends serve an important role, but sometimes you need support from someone in the political realm and beyond your personal network to help you carve out your unique path to elected office.
- Maybe you need someone who breaks hard truths to you gently or maybe you need someone who can give you direct, tough love. Maybe you need someone to help you brainstorm a solution to a problem or help you make a connection to an elected official. Whatever the need, there’s value in receiving the support and guidance from someone who’s been through it themselves.
- What to look for in a mentor:
- A mentor could be an elected official whose journey you can relate to or a political party activist who can show you the ropes of local politics. A mentor could be of any age. Mentors can take on a formal role, through regularly scheduled calls or meetings, or be a more informal connection, like a quick phone call when you have a question. There’s no one particular way to be a mentor - it’s all about finding someone who is right for you and your needs.
- How to be a good mentee:
- Communicate: If you’re seeking a formal mentorship relationship, be clear about the time commitment and level of support you’re hoping the mentor can provide.
- Ask questions: Your mentor will have a lot to offer, but you asking questions about their background, experiences, and how they would handle a particular situation will help you to get the most out of the relationship.
- Ask for feedback: In order to grow as a leader, we must be open to feedback. Make sure to ask for feedback regularly from your mentors. They’ll be able to offer you a useful perspective as you move into the public eye. As difficult as it can be to receive feedback at times, it is one of the only ways that we can improve.
- Show gratitude: Whether your relationship with a mentor is official or unofficial, make sure to show your mentor that you appreciate them! Be respectful of their time and commitments.
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