How can mentoring help you in your career?
An American Prague-based executive coach, Kristin Laronca Parpel, shares everything you need to know about mentoring before deciding to look for a mentor yourself. Who is it for? What do you need to invest in as a mentee? How to tell a good mentor from a bad one? Let’s have a closer look.
Who is mentoring for?
“It’s for somebody willing to look in the mirror. Someone who is brave and who wants to work on their personal development,” says Kristin. “If I talk to a potential coachee or mentee and I feel like they don’t want to be there for whatever reason, I tell them – why don’t you give it some time? Why don’t you come back when you’re ready / when you have more time / when you know what you want to work on? It’s like if you want to stop drinking or go on a diet – do you really want to do it?”
If your answer to Kristin’s question is, “YES!”, you might wonder, “What does it require from me to become a mentee?” Let Kristin tell us more about it.
What does a mentee need to invest in?
- Be vulnerable and open
“If a mentee wants to get the most out of it, they have to be willing to be very honest with themselves,” says Kristin. “They really have to dig down and pull-out topics that are truly important to them. Rather than just saying – I want to get better at my work; I want to get a promotion – they need to answer – why? Why is that important for me?
- Put in the time and do the work
“A mentee has to be committed to the process. It’s like getting a gym pass, but if you only go once a month it’s not going to do much for you. The real work usually happens between sessions because hopefully, you’ve discovered something you want to work on.”
- Be proactive and bring the agenda
“As a mentee, you carry the agenda, and your role is to be the proactive one in the relationship. The mentor is not going to come up with topics and not going to be chasing you and not going to be pushing you. And it’s okay if the agenda changes over time. But come up with one,” Kristin stresses.
“I realized that those thoughts were circulating in my head and never got anywhere”
So, how does that apply to real life? Kristin shares her experience of being a mentee:
“For the past few years, I was thinking in the back of my head – how can I bring my business to emerging markets? It’s something I’ve been passionate about for years and when I had kids – and I want to make clear that I chose to and wanted to be home with my kids when they were little – but it meant that the dream to work in emerging markets was put on hold.”
“But now my kids are getting older. Pretty soon, they will be out of the house. And I like new challenges and as much as I like working in the Czech Republic, everything functions pretty well and it’s not that exciting anymore,” we share a laugh. “And I realized that those thoughts about emerging markets were just circulating in my head and never got anywhere. They never got on a piece of paper, never got to someone to discuss it with.”
So, Kristin decided to send her application to a mentoring program Equilibrium by the British Chamber of Commerce and signed up to be a mentee.
“I think it was hard for them to pair me. Because I couldn’t be matched with anybody I worked with. First, I wouldn’t feel comfortable opening up and it would be a conflict of interest. They did a great job though and matched me with a coach and a therapist from Ostrava. We don’t run in the same circles so there was enough distance between us.”
“Being a mentee was a bit of a lifesaver”
Kristin went into the program to enter emerging markets. However, the mentee’s agenda can sometimes change in an unpredictable way. “During the year, Covid came and there was no chance of acting on my goal.Being a mentee was a bit of a lifesaver for me because I really went through months of depression during the lockdown. I felt like I lost my freedom for the first time. And that was something I never knew as an American.”
“They say every therapist should have a therapist,” Kristin continues, “I’m not a therapist but being a coach, it has some similarities. My day is focused on the agenda of somebody else. Always. It was great that every time my mentor and I had our calls, it was all about me,” she chuckles. ”It was hard in the very beginning. I’m used to being the one who is asking the questions and it was hard to focus on myself. I felt…” she looks for a word, “I felt a bit selfish at first. But the timing was almost magical. He really helped me get through that time.”
What were the three greatest benefits of being a mentee for Kristin? “Self-reflection,” she answers without hesitation. “I usually put no time aside in a day for true self-reflection. Then letting go of being in control. I’m used to always being the one running the show. So letting go was challenging for me in a good way. And the third thing was realizing I had recurring themes. They were in my subconscious but I didn’t make time for them before. Now, I’m aware of those themes and can address them.”
You want to work on yourself, you have the time, you have the agenda and you’re committed, so what should you expect from a mentor?
It’s actually quite simple. “Every mentor needs to be open and truly interested to do it,” says Kristin. A mentor should be able to listen and ask questions that will challenge the mentee to identify the course of action, which they need to take in regards to their own development. And a mentor doesn’t need to be a qualified trainer or an expert in the role the mentee carries out.
But what to watch out for? What a mentor shouldn’t do, according to Kristin, is:
- Try to impress
- Be there for the wrong reasons – just to put it on their CV
“Now, that one is tricky,” Kristin deliberates, “Because sometimes you have mentors who are there to share a piece of advice with their mentee. But there’s a difference between sharing and telling someone what to do. They need to find the very fine line between – let me share how I did it – and – you should do it this way because I know, I’ve done it.”
- Have an agenda
“If I’m coming in to be your mentor and I have some agenda about what I think you should do, it can be a manipulation. That’s why when you pair mentors in a company, you want to make sure that you’re pairing people that are not in the same division. I personally can’t coach or mentor somebody that I’m very close to because I have an opinion. That can make me biased and that’s very dangerous.”
“It was the only time that I let my own agenda and my own fantasy get in the way”
Mentors are just people and even Kristin has made some mistakes. Let her share how a mentor should react when that happens.
“Once I was paired with the director of a female prison. I thought – that’s so cool! And before we even met, I started to think about what we can talk about. As a mentor, my paper should be completely clean. But I was watching Orange Is the New Black,” Kristin makes me chuckle.
“Yeah,” she laughs too, “that was my reference to what a female prison is like. And I was thinking – I’d love to volunteer! I could coach the women and my friend can help them make their CVs and I know a woman who cuts hair… I had this grand plan of this pro bono program we could do for women when they are leaving the prison.”
“Now, it was based on a Netflix show and it was total bullshit,” Kristin laughs again. “I was good the first couple of sessions and then one time I was like, ‘Hey Gabi, would you like to do a program like this?’ It was innocent and naive but totally inappropriate. No harm was done because she’s a smart woman and she was like, ‘Oh, that’s an interesting idea.’ And instead of telling me, ‘Kristin, that’s never going to work,’ she went, ‘Why don’t you visit me at the prison?’ Because she knew – once I saw the prison, I would realize it was absurd.”
“That was a big mentoring mistake. Big. But that was, in all of my years of mentoring, the only time that I let my own agenda and my own fantasy get in the way. We are all people and we make mistakes. But be aware of it and admit it. When this happened with Gabi, rather than putting my nose high and pretending that it was ok, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry, that was stupid.’ One is never done being a better mentor. It’s a continuous process. I learn something new every day,” Kristin reflects.
“I often feel that people have some hidden talents that have been pushed down”
“I truly believe that every single person has a gift and a talent, and very often people are not tapping into it, because their father wants them to be a lawyer. Or their boyfriend does, or their husband… I often feel that people have some hidden talents that have been pushed down for whatever reasons and circumstances,” Kristin thinks.
So, is there something you might have pushed down and want to explore? If you’re ready to search for your mentor, you can read this Prague-expat-friendly guide on how to find a mentor.