Everybody is praising the benefits of mentoring. The mentees get a lot of guidance and the mentors become better educators and leaders. Big corporations have established structured mentoring programs. Entrepreneurs also advocate the importance of these relationships.Yet, we hear many stories where mentoring went really bad.
So the question is: Can you spot a bad mentor?
In general, avoid people who fall in the following categories:
- Egomaniacs – who believe that they are the best, they know everything and you are very lucky to be part of their network
- Bossy – who demand you agree and follow any piece of advice they give you
- Manipulative – who are happy to mislead you or sabotage you for their own purposes
- Incompetent – This is a no-brainer. However, sometimes they camouflage themselves as knowledgeable and approachable. Be aware!
A good mentor will offer good advice. They will have an understanding of practical issues and how to get round them. This is important for both entrepreneurs and corporate people.
In order to get a good mentoring relationship, invest time to find the right person.
Talk to people you respect. If there is chemistry, ask them if it is ok to get their thoughts on a couple of issues. Start slow. Assess the advice they give you. If the relationship progresses well and there is interest from both parties, you may want to give it a bit of structure; e.g. catch-up every once every three months.
It is also important to think what you really want to get out of the relationship. Do you expect your mentor to be your advocate for your next exciting project or promotion? Or do you want someone who can act as a sounding board and give you big picture guidance?
I am a big fan of the latter. I had two great mentors while I was working at Eli Lilly. They were more senior than me and they worked at very different regions. Hence, they were able to advise me on what experiences I need to get under my belt, how to best position myself and how to navigate the corporate culture. These relationships were based on trust and respect. They became stronger and even more useful to me when I left the company.
If you are more interested in finding a sponsor within the company, be aware of the corporate politics that go with it. You may get the support of your chosen mentor but not of his internal competitors.
- your direct supervisor (or his/her manager) cannot be your mentor due to potential conflict of interest. If your mentor becomes your manager, then you need to put an end to the mentoring relationship.
- you may get more than one mentors. It will be useful to get the perspective of someone who doesn’t work in the same company. Also, if you plan to change careers or set up you own on business, get a mentor in the new path you plan to pursue.
- don’t pay for mentorship. If you do, consider it consulting – not mentorship.
The bottom line: Mentoring relationships can be very beneficial as long as you find the right person. You know now how to spot the bad ones.
Did you have any bad mentor experiences? What happened? It will be great if you can share your learnings.
Korina Karampela is the founder of b4iapply, author of 2 books, consultant and speaker.