How To Handle A Mentor Relationship That Just Isn’t Clicking
So you wanna break up with your mentor? You’re not alone. It’s a funny meta moment when a mentee asks me how to handle another mentor. Usually it’s an assigned mentor at work or a kind of blind date via some leadership program.
The young women that I interviewed while building this startup felt existing mentor programs glorify matchmaking, then end up getting it wrong most of the time.
This is what inspired our open platform – where you choose who you want to connect with based on what you think you need. You know best. And you can talk to as many mentors as you like. The freedom catches users by surprise.
But right now, you’re stuck in a weird relationship and need a ninja move to remove yourself. I get it. Consider thinking through the next step based on context: official vs. unofficial.
This is a “mentor” that’s been assigned as part of a work situation. What corporations call something can often be different from what it actually is. Some cynics would call that marketing.
Make no mistake, if your boss is called a mentor on paper…keep in mind: it’s just paper. She or he is still your boss.
In a situation like this, it’s worth taking a day or two to consider why the relationship is not clicking. Scribble down your gut reaction to these questions:
- Why do I not feel great about this?
- What exactly is not working (be specific)?
- This relationship would be better if…
When contemplating these questions, be grateful that this experience has shown you what you don’t want from a mentor. You’ll be able to see these signs earlier next time. Mentorship is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. What works for you today will be different from what works for your co-workers, friends, or even who you used to be five years ago. And that’s okay.
The last prompt helps you brainstorm ways to better the relationship. For example, maybe they are so busy, it’s hard to schedule time together. One solution could be to see if they’re open to scheduling a recurring meeting, same time, same place, etc.
Remember every relationship is as unique as the people in it. I think the key is to find a way to talk about the things we hardly talk about because perhaps there’s a voice in our head that says it’s impolite or doubtful about change. Practice talking it through with one of our mentors. They can offer an outside opinion and new insight.
If you still strongly feel that your mentor does not measure up, then start networking with other potential mentors. Only switch mentors when you’ve pre-vetted another one.
I switched mentors once to a person that I really liked. He was friendly, smart, and funny. The bad news is everybody felt that way about him. He had difficulty challenging other people’s opinions. In the end, he prioritized being liked over advocating for his mentees.
Do your homework. Do not leave a “bad” mentor for a “worse” one.
These are mentor relationship that are less formal. Maybe a friend of your parents or someone you meet at a networking event. For these, it’s not ideal, but I would say you can just let the relationship fizzle.
Like dating, the mentor is probably going to take the hint. If you are one for closure, you can write a simple email that includes, “Thank you so much for helping me through XYZ. Can I check-in again in a few months if I need help again?” They will probably say yes and you will have bought yourself a few months of distance. If they say no, well, sounds like you didn’t want to keep in touch with them anyway.
By the way, just because a mentor relationship is not clicking today does not mean the relationship may not click in the future. You can be sure that you and your situations will change you over time and ditto for them. You never know. So letting a connection fizzle is always preferable to burning a bridge.
Whether work or personal, my general belief is the more mentors, the better! You may not get along with every single one just like every acquaintance you meet at a party is probably not going to be your best friend.
The important lesson is to be open and appreciate that every person has something to offer. And that you always have a choice about how to develop (or not) the relationship.
“You know, you do need mentors, but in the end, you really just need to believe in yourself.”-Diana Ross