Being a mentor fosters your growth

Ülle Susi
Ülle Susi. Photo from a private collection

I am a graduate of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration of the University of Tartu from 2018. The studies were very inspiring, and immediately after graduation I wanted to give something back to the university.

As I am a mentor and a member of the board of the Estonian Chamber of Mentors; it was clear that the search for common ground begins here. Last year I participated in the mentoring programme of the University of Tartu as a mentor, and this year we are already participating in the programme by organising mentors’ workshops.

At the Estonian Chamber of Mentors, we always support projects for dissemination and implementation of mentoring. Our members include many leaders, trainers, and mentors working in different fields and with differing experience. Several workshop leaders have graduated from the University of Tartu, while some have returned to the university. Why are we doing this? The answer is simple: we believe in the need for mentoring and its power to support development, and we are ready to share our experience.

What is mentoring? Mentoring is the sharing of knowledge, skills, and life experience to guide the development of another to reach their full potential.

Each mentor has their own story. For me, it is more about showing the direction and a journey of shared discovery. Completing the Fontes mentoring programme in 2009 was a powerful impetus for me to develop along the way. The growth is somehow quiet, unnoticed. After each meeting, you look at what you did well, what could be done better, get feedback, and take the next step. At some point, you will find that you have completed some coaching or training again – all to get better as a leader, person, and mentor. Each mentee teaches their own story, with different tasks and solutions. As a mentor, you must be prepared for difficulties and constantly look for new opportunities – this is how this development takes place: together, quietly.

Sharing knowledge, skills, and life experience as a mentor seems easy, but in reality, it has been a pretty big trap for me. It is easy to start sharing experience, but actually, the focus should be on the mentee and directing his or her development. As you share your experience, you will suddenly notice that the mentee is not present at all – you are already off track.

I learned to ask myself why I was telling the mentee this story: am I analysing myself here, or does it help the mentee recognize herself? In this respect, coaching is easy – no stories, full focus on the coachee. The mentoring relationship is like a higher level: you need to be able to anticipate the story – whether and how it will help the mentee – and only then you will start to tell it. I made a simple rule for myself: if I’m not sure, I won’t talk. It is especially difficult if the mentee has to solve a situation you are familiar with. I decided to share only difficult lessons, failures – I learned from them myself; maybe the mentee will also do so.

What to do instead of telling stories? Ask questions. It’s easy to say, but much more difficult to do. In the past decade, good books have been written about coaching and mentoring, questionnaires have been created, new models and training courses have been created. I have received a lot of help and ideas from them, and I always recommend them. Learning, reading, and practicing help, but I have done best when I am not overworked, just being present for the mentee. As a mentor, I learned to accept the mentee’s choices and decisions. Although they may have seemed below the bar or not suitable at all, sometimes too high to achieve, the main thing is that the mentee can move on.

I am often asked what mentoring is. Everyone has their own understanding and these perceptions are often contradictory. As a representative of the Chamber, I felt obliged to explain it better, and an eye-opener came from the Finnish authors’ book Mentoring 4.0. We found the answer to the question: there are different levels of mentoring.

Four levels of mentoring
There are four levels of mentoring. Image credit: Ülle Susi

This helped us to create a better understanding of mentoring in the Chamber and hopefully will help other mentoring enthusiasts to get a clearer picture. No level is worse or better than the other. Good mentoring skills come in handy at every level. When arranging meetings and setting goals, it is good to remember what the mentee expects and where (at what level) we are as the mentor.

In examining the levels in the Chamber of Mentors, we discovered the dialogue mentoring and put it into practice immediately. We now have our first experimental dialogue mentoring growth programme for experienced mentors. As a mentor, continuous development is ensured and goals continue. I wish everyone exciting discoveries and good growth along the way!

Ülle Susi is interim manager, coach and mentor, member of the board of the Estonian Chamber of Mentors, and graduate of the University of Tartu Faculty of Economics and Business Administration (master’s, 2018).

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