Whether it’s a business school professor, an old boss, or a close friend, your mentor has helped guide you through thick and thin, good and the bad — you name the cliche. But of late, the match just doesn’t feel right anymore.
Stanford professor Robert Sutton addresses this problem in an article on the HBR Blog Network with five signs that you and your mentor might be out of sync. They are:
1. You’re resisting the path. Nobody says you have to follow the exact career path of your mentor. However, say your mentor spent a year in China in the early stages of his or her career, and has been highly suggesting you spend a year abroad. And say you just plain have zero interest in doing so. This could lead to problems; Sutton says social science research has shown that mentors are far more likely to support your decisions that mirror those they’ve previously taken.
2. You play in to his/her interests. If your mentor stands to benefit from decisions you make, his/her advice might require a grain of salt. “For example,” Sutton writes, “if you work closely today with your mentor, and make his or her life easier and more successful, that usually helpful and objective party might have a hard time giving you the best advice about an opportunity that will put you in a different role.”
3. You have different attitudes about risk. Look outside the working world: Your mentor might not be able to give you the best advice about a risky career or business decision if they’re the type to grimace not only at similar decisions in their career, but at the mention of hang gliding or skydiving.
4. You’ve surpassed him in knowledge. You’ve been around the block a few times now. The circumstances might just hold that you’re the expert now and there’s not much more your mentor can offer.
5. Other people know you better. Similarly, you probably spend more time with your team at work than your mentor at this point. The people who have the best insights into how you work and therefore might have the best insight might instead be those you lead rather than those you look up to. This is one argument for establishing two-way mentorship programs at your company.
And, in reality, sometimes these relationships might just need to reach a conclusion.
Mentoring consultancy Chronus even advises stablishing mentorship end dates for internal workplace programs. And if the situation has grown toxic — if your mentor is angry you’re not listening, or you both feel it’s a waste of time — it might fall to you to break up with your mentor. If the relationship just isn’t going to do you any good anymore follow these guidelines, drawn from Computer World:
Set a date. Tell your mentor in advance of the last meeting that it will be the last.
Follow the basic rules of feedback. Be sure to express your gratitude and touch on the positive elements of the mentorship before giving an honest appropriation of where things fell off. Doing so will help both of you in future mentorships.