Interview Series: About Mentoring with Cristina Muntean

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A few months ago, we organized the first training for our mentors led by Cristina Muntean - a trainer and advisor in emotional and systemic intelligence, personal branding and strategic communication skills for leadership. Our mentors loved the training that Cristina put together, so we decided to ask her more about her journey and mentoring experience to give you an example of who leads our mentor trainings!  

 

Could you tell me more about your beginnings and how your career path revealed itself to you? What were your biggest challenges?

Journalism was always my dream career. I knew I wanted to become a journalist at age eleven after I read a book recalling the Vietnam War through the eyes of an American reporter. I studied journalism and worked in Bucharest media. After I finished my studies I moved to the Czech Republic. I started to write for the Czech Business Weekly in the summer of 2005. From a freelance reporter I grew to become a reporter that specialized in financial markets, then became chief reporter, and ultimately, in January 2010, deputy editor-in-chief.

I stepped out of the media world rapidly in April 2010 when Czech Business Weekly abruptly shut down. I needed to switch gears and that’s how my entrepreneurial journey started. Soon after the closure of Czech Business Weekly, I founded Media Education CEE, a Prague-based PR and training agency, and started teaching people how to speak with journalists. Later, I also became a certified trainer of personal development. Thanks to that I can now leverage my media and PR background in order to spend the rest of my life helping people to raise their self-awareness, develop emotionally intelligent personalities and communicate better.

 The shift from being a journalist to starting my own business was itself one big challenge.

I had to start selling myself, test the market and build my own products and services. When testing the market, I found out that people want me to train them in Czech rather than in English.

The language barrier was probably the biggest hurdle for me. I had to embrace my vulnerability and learn to say: This is how good I am in Czech, are you willing to work with me under these circumstances? Just after I started in 2011, I received an offer to train thirteen members of the board of one of the largest TOP5 banks on the Czech market. The only condition was that I did it in Czech. So, I went to each of them and asked them: Is my level of language a hindrance for you? None of them said no. This project gave me hope and finances to continue my business. As a foreigner who teaches communication skills in Czech, I can say I found a way to turn my limitations into an advantage and thus hopefully to inspire others to be bolder on their own journey. 

 

Who were the people who helped you and challenged you the most throughout your career journey? In what way?

When I was still in journalism, it was mainly my professors who challenged the way I was working. So, they played the informal role of mentors. Later, in the newsroom I didn’t get any formal mentoring - work relationships were also more informal, and mentoring was occurring naturally between the reporters and editors. When I made the major shift to become an entrepreneur, it was a completely different story. It was such a new and uncharted territory for me that I thought I was sinking. So, in 2011 I joined a Czech mentoring program and met my first official mentor Katie Schoultz. Katie was from the UK and had started her own law firm in the Czech Republic. Like me, she was an expat woman successfully building her own business. Katie gave me hope that it is possible to start my own non-native language communication business as a foreigner in the Czech Republic. It was exactly the support I needed at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. 

The main topic we focused on in our discussions with Katie was how to launch a business. I had a vision of how my services should look and I knew I wanted to be the only owner of my company. I mainly needed logistical and emotional support. 

Basically, my mentor Katie gave me a:

  1. Emotional support: Just being with someone who really understood my struggles made an enormous difference to me. Her presence and support provided me with the confidence necessary to start and to continue in my business.

  2. Experience and knowledge on how to build a company: Katie shared with me her insights from legal through financial (mainly cash flow management) to managerial aspects of business. That prevented me from making some mistakes I could have made had I not met her. 

  3. Network: At that time, I already had a broad network in journalism. But Cristina the journalist was not the same as Cristina the businesswoman and therefore the contacts needed in this new career path were also different. Katie introduced me to a new network of business professionals. Without her, it would have taken so much longer.

 

Do you have a mentor now? If yes, what benefits do you gain from talking to them in this stage of your career when you’re more likely to be a mentor than a mentee?

Of course - we’re always bigger and smaller than someone else and life is an ongoing learning process. I feel surrounded by a tribe of mentors.

Currently I have one formal mentor through the Enneagram in Business network. In order to be considered for a Senior Associate position in the EIBN I need to go through a year-long mentoring program. Now we are 7 months through the program with my mentor Sari Vuohtoniemi from Finland, who had a great career in corporate leadership. She’s now a leadership trainer, mentor and coach. 

I talk to Sari about current topics and priorities in my life and about my emotional maturity and growth through the lenses of the Enneagram, which is a powerful system of personal development. It is not about how to start a business anymore, but rather about how to run a sustainable business with a solid impact and a sustainable life in parallel with my work.  

I cannot clone myself in order to scale my company Media Education CEE. I talk to Sari mainly about how to lead a sustainable life, how to be mentally fresh for my clients, how to deepen relationships and get more emotional support when I need it and, most importantly - how to build a business that goes beyond me. 

As I am working on building better leadership development programs for executives and their companies, Sari also actively mentors me on my leadership training. Unlike me, she has inside boardroom experience and therefore can support me on my journey to be able to stand in front of a global CEO, be perceived as a real partner for leadership reflections and to get a chance to help develop them and their organization. 

Besides Sari, I maintain mutually nurturing, but not institutionalized, mentoring relationships with several other mentors and friends. We sit regularly once in a few months and try to always have two to three hours for each other. We spend half the time talking about challenges I am facing and the other half about the other person’s current priorities. For example, one of my friends is a former CFO and she mentors me on cash flow management. Another helps me to empathize with the way CEOs think. I can ask her questions like: I’m having this pitch in front of a CEO next week, what do you think about it? And I advise her on her personal branding in return. 

Throughout my journey I’ve realized that my brain is too small for figuring out everything I want to achieve in my life by myself. So why reinvent the wheel repeatedly when there are so many smart people out there who would be willing to help me? It feels great to be surrounded by people from various categories and learn from each other. One can find support and mentors from all ranges of life and on a variety of subjects; you just need to 1) know what you need and 2) have the courage to ask. 

 

What is the most crucial part of a successful mentoring relationship?

I think one of the important parts is to prevent the conversation from becoming common chit-chat. In order to get the most out of a mentoring relationship we need to stay focused, which is a joint effort of both mentor and mentee. I feel like mentoring is about constant re-focusing and re-defining as goals can change during the program. For example, one of my former mentees got married and pregnant during our program, so her initial goal of jump-starting a new business quickly shifted to sustainably combining personal and entrepreneurial life. 

The other important aspects of a successful mentoring are a high level of engagement, mutual understanding and trust. Both the mentor and mentee should always ask questions like: What is our current level of engagement? Do we understand each other? How could we formulate our goals even better? Are we on track to achieve what we expected from this mentoring program? And so on.  

The mentor is there for the mentee and the mentee needs to be present for herself. It is her self-development journey, so the mentee must drive the content. Finally, we need to be punctual and respect each other’s schedules.

 

What are your next steps? Any future plans?

I have a dream to create a mentoring program for journalists. As a journalist I didn’t have this kind of support and now I see how much I could have benefited from it. I think journalists nowadays need to focus on their human and managerial development more than ever before. Especially here in Central and Eastern Europe, where the media world is so fragile. So, one of the next steps in my career is to do just that - to create a nurturing environment for journalists in the CEE. 

I was recently invited to one company to reflect on the value of wisdom in the digital world for a group of more than 100 people aged 55+. The key message was that at every point in our lives we have something to give and we must stay open to receive. Considering that, I want to stay humble and open to receive from those who are further down the road and to also generously give to those whose time to shine is yet to come.

What do you think about Femme Palette and its mentoring program? 

I believe that mentoring programs that bring people together and enable a healthy transfer of know-how across genders, ages, professions and industries are a blessing. That's why I am happy to commit my time to mentoring here, in the Femme Palette community, and in the other mentoring programs where I am active in the Czech Republic and abroad. I am strongly convinced of the future of mentoring, as it is one of the most efficient and purpose-driven people development activities I have had the chance to discover. It is also my hope that mentoring will become more and more professional in the future and we, mentors, will learn to embrace the fact that, while our paths are full of experience and insights, our mentees’ paths might be simply different and that's okay. For me, mentoring is gently putting our experience at the disposal of our mentees while being able to remain in a place of not knowing what's best for the other - a place of curiosity, of mutual respect and of awe in front of someone else's unfolding destiny. That's why I am convinced that Femme Palette is a wonderful place for giving and receiving quality mentoring and I am excited about the possibilities opening ahead of us as individuals and as a community.

 
Klara GajovaComment