Mentoring is a GOOD thing and I want to preface this article by saying that anyone who takes the time and energy to share their life advice with you should be applauded. Probably 90% of mentors are fantastic, but it happens every once in awhile that your mentor may steer you in the wrong direction or perhaps you’ve designated someone a mentor that doesn’t even know you’re emulating them (celeb-mentor). Here are a few quick tips for testing your mentor-mentee relationship and making sure that it can actually help you develop professionally:
1) Does their life even remotely resemble yours? If your chosen mentor is a single 50 year old male making six figures and you are a 35 year old wife and mother of three struggling to make ends meet, the suggestions you receive may not be attainable, even if they are relevant. While having multiple mentors can complement a burgeoning professional’s growth, if you’re going to choose just one, select someone who has at least one or two similarities to you.
2) Do they listen to your issues before dispensing advice? Because so many mentors have reached a certain place in their life, they may be used to telling people what to do and having them do it. While that’s very productive in the workplace, it can be far less so in a mentor relationship. If all you’re getting are pat answers and war stories, select a mentor who’ll keep an ear out.
3) Are they really looking for an unpaid admin? Depending on where you set up your mentoring relationship, you may ind yourself being bossed around by someone that’s supposed to be supporting and listening. If you are struggling in tyranny within your mentoring situation, get out.Not only is this kind of mentoring not helpful it can actually be harmful:
Inappropriate delegation is when a mentor manipulates a protégé to do work that the mentor should be doing. Protégés in situations like these may find their career development stymied. Too often, they end up never taking on work that will develop the skills they need to gain more responsibility and receive attention from senior management.
4) Have they stayed current on trends in the industry? It’s wonderful to find someone who has been a veteran of your field, but things do change over the years and it’s important to ensure that the person giving you career advice, actually understands what it takes to be successful today:
Part of the reason may simply be perspective: Someone who got tenure 30 years ago may not appreciate what it takes to get tenure today. The young tenure tracker may not know, or catch on quickly enough, that the same mentor who is a wizard of statistical methodology is offering awful advice about handling disruptions in the classroom.
5) Are they honest? Any mentor worth their salt will tell you when you ask them something outside of their circle of expertise. If they tell you they don’t know but help you find someone who does, that’s the sign of a great mentor. However, on the flip side, if you have a mentor that discourages you from seeking help other than his or hers, you may need to find that help yourself.
“Bad mentoring relationships are worse than no relationship at all,” says Jean Rhodes, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Research shows, she says, that “negative interactions are much more salient than positive ones.”