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Peer-to-peer-mentorship - an evolutionary tale

There are always moments that stand out as game changers when looking back over a lengthy career. One of those moments for me was more than 20 years ago at the formation of a peer-to-peer mentorship cohort.

An outstanding group of 10 women, all from different, complementary disciplines, was formed because none of us had women in our organizations who worked above us, who could assist us in navigating the overt and sometimes unspoken rules of making an impact and becoming leaders.

We called ourselves "Synikkan," from the Greek, meaning "moving mountains together." Our mission was to assist one another unconditionally and to recognize that we were all there to "use" one another without apology. It was a liberating environment: No question went unanswered, no circumstance was too difficult.

We operated with "open kimonos" (no secrets) and within the "cone of silence" (complete trust). We met regularly for almost 10 years, adapting to different circumstances, over changes in geography and positions.

We learned from one another about how to negotiate a severance package, when it is time to leave, how to be held accountable for goals and objectives, and mainly how to support each other with the knowledge that our collective experiences enabled us to solve problems and plan for the future with incredible agility.

When distance and interest waned, rather than force something upon the group, we gently moved away from our structured environment and moved onto the next iteration. We are still there for one another in so many ways, just not as formally.

When the opportunity arose to participate in and sponsor the Women's President's Organization (WPO) inaugural chapter in Minnesota, the timing was perfect. This model has more structure and is highly dependent upon engagement of the members and the facilitator.

One of the best things I have learned is that the collective wisdom and constant prodding make me a better decision-maker. I know that someone in the group has had an experience that will aid in my circumstance and allow me to leverage her knowledge to come to a solution much faster.

Last year, I wanted to change our firm's annual meeting and engage a futurist (yes, at an accounting firm!) to lead the meeting. With the group's help, I found a "wizard" who has guided our firm to the next level.

For me, peer-to-peer mentoring has impacted who I am as a leader and has expanded my vantage point for the benefit of our firm and the clients we work with.

Beth Kieffer Leonard is the managing partner of Lurie Besikof Lapidus & Co., LLP; she is one of a handful of women managing partners in the top 100 CPA firms in the country. www.lblco.com, www.womenpresidentsorg.com

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