When your mentor falls off the pedestal you had them on

07 Feb

When your mentor falls off the pedestal you had them on

Last year I wrote a blog sharing what I thought were the three key things to look for in an awesome mentor. I went back to read this blog recently after being asked to mentor an amazing young woman who has the world at her feet.

Of course, I was honoured and humbled to be asked to mentor her as she navigates her career and personal changes she is currently experiencing. I took the request seriously and recognised the responsibility that comes with sharing my experiences.

In our first catch-up I was telling her about the many different types of mentors, coaches, advisors and supporters I have had throughout my career and the value they have added to my journey. She went on to ask me if had I ever had any mentors who had not been the right mentor for me.

I thought this was an interesting question. We ask people to be our mentors based on our perception of who they are, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be right. In hindsight, I could identify three mentors who unfortunately eventually fell off the pedestal I had put them on.

They didn’t fall from this pedestal for all of the same reasons but there were some themes in their mentorship.

1. They said yes for all the wrong reasons

Why someone commits to mentor you is important. Mentoring is a giving relationship where we part with our time, knowledge, and learnings for free. Free means we do not expect anything in return for this opportunity AND we certainly don’t have undisclosed intentions.

Unfortunately two mentors I had very early on in my business life had interest in my business for their own benefit, whether it be to use our services for free or at a discount or to potentially buy my business. I think about how naive I was and what a disaster it could have been for me had I not listened to my gut and stopped the relationship. Just like when you are recruiting staff, it is perfectly okay to ask someone why they want to mentor you and assess them accordingly.

2. They didn’t see it as a joint learning experience

The last thing you want in your mentor is ego! Obviously they are going to be an impressive person, otherwise you wouldn’t have asked them to mentor you. But if they think they are better than you, know more about everything than you, or are generally are not growing from the experience, they are not really a true mentor.

One of the reasons I enjoy a mentoring relationship is that both parties can share and learn from each other. A good question to ask them up front is who their mentor is and what they would like to learn from this experience? If they are going to be confronted by learning from you too, their ego will most certainly get in the way of a successful mentoring relationship.

3. They make you feel like they are doing you a favour

It is important to value the time your mentor is giving you. They are busy and important people, which is why you have asked them to mentor you. But there is nothing worse than someone committing to help you and then making you feel like you are an annoyance.

I suggest you set clear guidelines up front of what is a reasonable commitment to the relationship. For example, we will meet once a quarter, or we can call anytime, or you can only call me during the week before 9am, or send me a text when you want to catch up. If at any point you feel like the relationship is not working, it could well be due to points one or two. There is often an expiry date to mentoring relationships and it is certainly okay to break up if it is not serving you anymore.

I am still grateful to those mentors who fell off my pedestal. Because while they didn’t turn out to be who I thought, they all did teach me positive lessons for my business and personally—as well as what to look for in future mentors.

I also know these lessons have made me consider my role as a mentor and the importance of it, and to ensure that I am fit for the job before I say yes.


Sue-Ellen Watts , Founder

Sue-Ellen is a visionary and inspiring leader. With a background in leading high performing teams, strategic recruitment and leadership coaching Sue-Ellen offers meaningful experience and insight. She delivers expertise with gutsy honesty and commercial realism. A true entrepreneur, Sue-Ellen is hell bent on disrupting the way businesses use HR. She won’t stop until SME leaders collectively bring strategic HR to the boardroom table. Sue-Ellen is curious about technology and the future of work, using her business as an experimental lab of forward thinking techniques and methodologies.

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