“Help – My Mentor is not a good fit!”

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How to break-up with a Mentor! by Rodger Harding

Almost two decades experience running, co-ordinating and participating in diverse mentorship programs, has shown that Mentor/Mentee relationships, like any other human interaction, can be complex and definitely depend on an ongoing fit to be successful.

In fast paced business environments, establishing this fit is a tall order, as time and budget constraints, as well as limited mentor availability, often necessitate paper-driven profile matches made without subjective due diligence or in-person interviews.

Given that a Mentor has stepped forward to help another (usually a total stranger) become the best she/he can possibly be, the Mentee is in an awkward position should the relationship not work out: “How do I end this relationship, while still conveying gratitude for my mentor’s generosity of spirit?” This conundrum is often compounded if the relationship is part of a formal organizational initiative – “What will people think if I decide to quit the program or ask for another mentor at this point?”

Bearing in mind that there are no set rules that govern individual relationships, I am prompted to suggest the following guidelines to bring a mentorship relationship to an amiable conclusion:

(Please note that the process for a Mentor to conclude a relationship with a Mentee is identical!)

1. Accept the lack/perceived lack of an ongoing fit as absolutely normal! Continuing to invest in a dynamic that is not working is unfair to both the mentor and mentee!

2. Check to ensure that the mentor has objectively been given every chance to perform:

  • “Have I properly articulated my goals to my mentor; did I check to ensure that my communication was understood?”
  • “Does my mentor really see me for who I am? – Have I shown who I really am?”
  • “Do I feel understood and adequately engaged  by my mentor”
  • “Do we have a mutual awareness of each other expertise, experience etc.?”
  • “Are we at all like-minded – Are we usually on the same page?”
  • Time wise, to what degree are we mutually available/have easy access to each other?”*

Have I shared relationship doubts/misgivings with my mentor?”

3. Check for subjective preference:

  • “Do we have mutual respect for each other?”
  •  “Do we like each other?”

4. Set a definite objective to either continue or end the relationship.

Again, remember it is preferable to end a relationship that, after adequate introspection, is found to be unhelpful.

5. Should the decision be to end the relationship, it is important to formulate a clear, decisive, respectful message. Be direct, yet gentle and empathetic. Avoid confusing an indirect/vague message with tact/diplomacy/politeness.  It is always permissible to state how one feels about oneself… without necessarily including anything accusatory toward the mentor.  A helpful self-question in this regard would perhaps be: “What would I like to hear from mentees who did not want to continue with me as their mentor…?”

Ideally the message should be structured as follows:

Objective + Reason + Acknowledgement of Mentor’s contribution to date + Request for agreement

Sample message:

“Regrettably, I will no longer be able to participate in this program – – I had envisioned more regular, action-oriented discussions… As we have discussed, our schedules have not allowed for this Nevertheless, I have really enjoyed meeting you and would love to stay in touch… Thank you so much for your willingness to act as my mentor…. I particularly appreciated… mention an enjoyable aspect of the encounter…. “+ “Are you in agreement that this would be best at this point in time?”

It would be opportune to follow up with a written note of thanks!

6. Provide honest and tactful feedback to program co-ordinator. This input provides valuable learning and enables future program efficiency

More often than not dissatisfied mentees provide above average satisfaction ratings when evaluating program efficiency; and, on occasion, follow with less than favourable comments off the record.

This does not serve the program well: Not only does the coordinator (as well as sponsors/convenors) labor under the illusion that all is well, but also has no further insight as to the mentor’s suitability for future mentee matches!

* In my experience the time/availability factor is the single biggest factor leading to the premature rupture of mentorship relationships – Individuals enter into mentorship roles with good intent, but subsequent schedule overload often dramatically decreases availability!

About Rodger Harding

 Rodger is a dynamic, free thinking, Business Leadership Consultant. His fierce belief in who/what people are, rather than who/what they are expected to be, has resulted in a consistent demand for his career transition and mentorship expertise from a diverse client base.

His thriving Toronto based practice draws on an extensive business, legal, diplomatic and military experience accumulated internationally over two decades. His  fields of expertise are Leadership, Career Transition, Corporate Intelligence Awareness and Conflict Management/Mediation.

Rodger is proud of his ability to access individual contribution within the larger framework of business objectives. His ability to interact effectively with people from all walks of life derives from an interesting career evolution that has ranged from the sophisticated diplomatic lifestyle of Paris, France, to the survival of death threats from mercenaries in the Indian Ocean, as well as the management of multi-million dollar aid projects.

At all times, he highlights the unique role of the individual to contribute to the ongoing evolution of good business.

To find out more about his successful Toronto based consultancy, visit www.HardingIntl.com