Managing a mentoring “breakup” | Women's Agenda

Managing a mentoring “breakup”

Choose a mentor wisely, work with them efficiently, and you could end up with a trusted adviser for life.

But sourcing the right person for the perfect relationship is no simple feat. And like when selecting a life partner, it should never involve “settling” on the first person who shows up. There are risks involved too: somebody could get hurt if things don’t work out.

Sometimes, mentoring will result in a friendship developing, other times a long-term but completely professional relationship will ensue (although even the best relationships can turn sour at some point). Often, however, the mentoring relationship will simply fizzle out, or one side of the exchange will seek to “break up” with the other.

Recently, I spoke to an ex-colleague who had just been through what she described as a “mentoring break-up”. She said that after six months of regular and structured meet-ups, things simply fizzled out. She hadn’t spoken to her mentor in one and a half years.

She questioned what could have happened. Did she disappoint her mentor somehow? Was she not grateful enough? Had she failed to take on some essential advice? Later in our conversation she conceded that she personally hadn’t made contact with her mentor and failed to schedule any meetings beyond those they penned in their diaries when they first met. The mentor wasn’t disappointed. The mentee had unconsciously allowed the relationship to fizzle out because she wasn’t getting enough out of their time together. They’d “broken up” without having had the conversation about what went wrong. Something that could have been useful for ensuring the next relationship worked.

Wendy McCarthy recently revealed to us just how long a mentoring relationship can last, explaining that two of her best mentors had worked with her for forty years and were now in their late eighties (one recently passed away). These mentors knew enough about her to act as independent and trusted advisers for most of her career.

McCarthy notes that getting the chemistry of the relationship right from the outset of choosing a mentor is essential to seeing the relationship work. While an intermediary can assist in sourcing the right person (and McCarthy’s own business does just that), organic mentoring relationships in which you approach a person and ask them directly to work with you can result in just as much success. However, a business relationship and contract needs to be developed – including a timeframe for the relationship (three, six, 12 months etc) and a set structure. “The person will be flattered and off you go,” she says.

So what happens when it’s simply not working out? A set timeframe for the relationship could simply solve the problem. But settling on a bad mentoring relationship and continuing to go through the motions, even for a short period, is a waste of time for both parties involved and could result in doing more damage than good. End it, rather than allowing it to fizzle out slowly. Even if it requires that little white lie: “it’s not you, it’s me”.

Have you been through a mentoring “break up”?

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