The Inner Mentor: Mentee helps me to become a better leader
January 25, 2022
Peter Bjørnskov-Johansen, CCO at European Sperm Bank, finds the opportunity to take on new or seldomly used roles through mentoring in such a way that he also achieves new insight and learning to apply in his leadership role. According to Peter, it is the intense and focused mentoring dialogue that you experience the mutual learning that contributes to your own leadership development.
”With many years of leadership experience both in Denmark and internationally, and in a number of different positions, I wanted to help as a mentor without the performance responsibility that I would have towards a direct report. I really wanted to help new or potential leaders develop their competencies and their careers”, states Peter Bjørnskov-Johansen.
Since Peter completed his first mentor training back in 2011, he has spent many hours helping and supporting new leaders adapt to their new role as well as provided feedback around challenging leadership situations.
Within the mentoring relationship, Peter focuses on establishing a close connection with the mentee and building a strong sense of trust between the mentor and the mentee.
Only by showing unconditional trust in each other will it be possible to create a mutual learning alliance, which is the foundation for successful mentoring.
In the mentor role, Peter applies his leadership experience and often uses examples to guide and support mentees’ learning: “I will occasionally use storytelling and discuss with the mentee what can be learned from the story. Other times, I will use a situation, that I have experienced myself and challenge the mentee to guess what I actually did in the situation – and why”.
Peter also uses the classic coach role, using open questions, but in a very selective way. However, the more instructing role – the “I have the answer” role – he prefers to avoid. “In my experience, the mentee often asks for the solution, but I don’t just share my solution, even though I may be very tempted. Giving solutions is not a sustainable solution for the mentee, in my opinion”.
Mentees must REALLY WANT to learn – and drive the learning process
Much of the mentees’ development takes place in between the mentoring meetings, where mentees continue to work on the topics they have discussed with the mentor and try out the tools and advice provided by the mentor. According to Peter, the mentoring process is driven by the mentees’ motivation and passion for their own learning, and that the mentees “work on their own between the mentoring meetings and challenge themselves either ‘on the job’ or through working on the solutions on their own – and that they do not expect me as a mentor to always deliver the solutions”. Peter finds that it works well doing brief check-ins between the mentoring meetings. This helps ensure that the mentee maintains their focus and provides an opportunity to help if the mentee has become stuck and uncertain about how to proceed.
From a previous mentoring relationship, Peter found that mentee’s commitment is vital for mentee’s success. “I had a relationship with a mentee who was struggling at work and had lost a lot of self-confidence. The person actively decided to get a mentor and started at a new education within a new area. So, I could feel that below the surface, something was happening that needed nurturing. We completed a great and unique job search process, that was very different from what the mentee would usually do. I ended up being the person’s mentor for more than a year, and the mentee ended up finding the dream job, clearly identified own motivational drivers and competencies, and achieved a clearer understanding of the type of organisation that would make the mentee thrive” states Peter Bjørnskov-Johansen.
The liberating power of receiving feedback
The higher up in the leadership hierarchy you are, the less direct feedback you receive on your leadership style. However, as a mentee it is easier to give feedback, and Peter found it very liberating and a great learning experience to receive this type of direct feedback from the mentee.
According to Peter, ”It is not unusual, that the mentoring conversation makes me realize that there is something I need to take care of or change in my own job. Without the conversation with the mentee, I would not have realized this. This is really mentoring at it’s best.”