Mentoring across borders

The ACFE’s mentoring program is going into its second round shortly. A quick scan through their database tells me there are currently no mentors in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Austria or Denmark other than myself. Around ten mentors are available respectively in Germany and the United Kingdom, just a handful in Switzerland. Yet, the requests of mentees keep dropping in despite the system already indicating that I am at “maximum”.

Over the duration of the program, that is a period of six months, those accepted mentees will work with me. Others, I will attempt to mentor in alternative ways. For instance by encouraging them to use the association’s forum for more general discussion or anonymised requests that can tap into the wisdom of the crowd.

Just as when I embarked on the first run of the program, I have requests from around the globe. It is fascinating to see the diversity of cultural background, professional level and skill set and the specific requirements for mentoring. I am also intrigued to learn that professional and highly educated mentees frequently need a combination of mentor, coach and consultant rather than a mentor per se.

The initial task is to clarify and negotiate what guidance I can provide and where the limits of my engagement are. Communicating across cultural contexts, timezones and professional boundaries can be inspiring, energizing and great fun but it is neither easy nor always smooth, I am aware of that.

Establishing trust and a comfortable tone that allows for strengths, weaknesses, hopes and plans to be shared by the mentees is paramount to me. I know it all depends on how comfortable we become in a fairly short period of time to open up and discuss meaningful goals. There is no guarantee and I need to be skilled in reading in between the lines, raising questions, concerns and potential needs in a diplomatic manner. If I fail to adhere to this set of my own standards, I will encourage the mentee to communicate any frustrations in time.

Having been a mentee myself, I know that this is not necessarily the standard approach. Mentees may find themselves accepted quickly but then ghosted, weeks or months without engagement. Mentees may find a mentor having harsh ideas about imparting knowledge, instructing rather than developing and some may cross some borders.

But then, learning from less than best practice has always been valuable to me. I am committed to offering the best of what the good mentors have instilled in me. I know that the better I do my job as a mentor, the higher the chances the mentee will pass this on once they are ready to mentor others.

Once we are at that stage of trust within the mentoring relationship, I offer value by challenging respectfully where required, guiding gently with ideas and suggestions and a pace that is in line with the mentee’s requirements. I still allow the mentee to feel they have full ownership over the process and in fact that they do own the outcome.

Ownership is a much-underestimated aspect. Both, in the world of risk management and corporate compliance as well as in political governance. I know how important it is not to impose, but to develop in collaboration and by permitting and maintaining a sense of authorship and ownership. It applies to risk policies, constitutions and work procedures just as it does to one’s career steps, professional narrative and decision-making processes.

My goal is to empower, to enable and to help the mentee grow. As far as possible I want to achieve this with the mentee in a partnership based on equality. This is an approach I have learned to value highly over the years and it is a way of dealing with each other that I have come to appreciate mainly in the Nordics but also to a substantial degree in the UK. It is an exciting way of accompanying someone’s professional journey. It is also deeply inspiring to see what empowering others can achieve and what developing skills in tandem can instil, both, in mentees and mentors.

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