Article: How to spot the signs of a poor mentor match

Mentoring can play a vital role in the personal development, and ultimately in the business success, of an entrepreneur. A successful mentoring relationship however, rarely happens without a great deal of time and effort. As with all relationships, mentoring relationships take time to build and must be maintained. How then, do you spot the signs of a potentially poor mentor match – and what should you do about it?

Take the time and make the effort to build the relationship before making judgements

Before we start to look for negatives, there’s a key mistake that so many people make when starting out in a new relationship – they don’t take the time and make the effort to build the relationship and get to know the other person. Strong relationships rarely just happen. Trust and friendship need to develop and that’s impossible unless both parties are prepared to give the relationship time to develop.

Know the difference between a poor match and inexperienced mentor

Remember that mentoring is a skill and one that takes time to develop. If your partner is new to mentoring, respect that and allow them time to develop. They may have valuable skills and experience, but it may take time for that to show through if they’ve never mentored before.

Signs of a potentially poor match

Of course there are times when the match is just not right, so what signs should you be looking out for to indicate that this might be the case?

1.       Your mentor doesn’t respect your boundaries

A good mentor should be perceptive enough to know your boundaries. They shouldn’t pry into your personal life without invitation, they shouldn’t be aggressive or pushy in their approach and you shouldn’t find them demanding. This is your business after all, so while it’s perfectly fine for them to want to see you succeed and to motivate you accordingly, you don’t answer to them – it’s a relationship of equals. You are the one that has to make the final decisions.

2.       Your mentor never has time for you

To offer to mentor someone is a big commitment, often one that this underestimated. As a result, many mentors find that they just don’t have the time to commit to make a success of it. If you find it hard to arrange meetings, or find that your meetings are often short or frequently interrupted, it’s perhaps a sign that your mentor has bitten off more than they can chew.

3.       Your mentor is overly critical without showing empathy

A good mentor should be a source of truth for you. They have no vested interest – so they should be able to perform the role of critical friend very well – and you must be prepared for them to do that. However, if you find your mentor to be particularly critical, without ever showing patience or empathy, then it’s likely that the relationship will never be constructive.

4.       Your mentor is just “not your kind of person”

It happens. We know that some people just don’t get on, no matter how hard both parties try. You have to develop a friendship with your mentor in order for the relationship to be effective and if that’s not possible, then everyone is wasting their time. Move on.

What should you do about it?

The best approach in a mentoring relationship should always be honesty. A good relationship can only be constructive if based on honesty from both parties and likewise, a relationship that has run its course should be discussed openly. Look at it this way, it’s unlikely that any mentor will want to waste their time on a relationship that isn’t useful to their mentee, so you shouldn’t be afraid of voicing your concerns. You may even learn something about their perspective and why they exhibit a behaviour that’s not helpful to you. If you decided to part ways then so be it, but you might also be able to salvage the relationship in this way. If they have experience that is valuable, the latter is always the preferred option, surely?

If you are participating in a programme, this is the point at which you should reach out for support. The support a third party can offer could be invaluable in trying to make the relationship work. They will be able to offer advice and a different perspective on the potential problems you are encountering. If all else fails, they will be there to find you a new mentor too, so you should make the time to reach out to them whenever possible. 

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