This post originally appeared on the Blacklight, our new newsletter for professionals.
We all want a mentor who challenges us and acts as a stellar sounding board. If they can open some doors that lead to cool new career opportunities, even better. But, like any relationship, not every mentor-mentee pair is destined for greatness. At some point, you may need to break things off and look elsewhere for career advice. Here are three signs it’s time to call it quits.
Your mentor gives you bad or generic advice.
An effective mentor provides guidance and constructive feedback. They help the mentee cultivate strengths and identify weaknesses. Your mentor should listen and ask questions that show they want to understand your goals, situation, or a problem you need to resolve. They offer specific, timely, and effective input. If their “insights” seem like one-size-fits-all, it’s time to reevaluate the relationship.
In Five Signs That Your Mentor is Giving You Bad Advice, Stanford management professor Bob Sutton stresses that it’s our job to think critically about the advice and feedback we receive. And sometimes, the correct course of action is to ignore it. Sheryl Sandberg can attest to that.
“Although mentors played a key role in her success,” Sutton writes, “mentors had advised her not to take the job as an executive at Google and not to take the job as Facebook COO—the very roles that have made her rich and famous.”
Your Mentor is content with the status quo.
We all have blind spots. A good adviser will encourage you to push beyond your comfort zone and take calculated risks. They should also be willing to do the same for themselves, no matter how long they’ve held a position. Everyone can find ways to improve and grow.
If your mentor has little interest in learning about advancements in their industry, and shows no commitment to continued professional development, it’s okay to look elsewhere for someone who does.
Your mentor is a bit of a deadbeat.
Successful people are constantly in demand. Your mentor is busy running a company or ruling the world. Of course emails, calls or texts will sometimes go unanswered. But the hallmark of a quality relationship is the mentor’s continued interest and investment in the protégée’s success.
If your mentor often cancels meetings, is hard to get hold of, and seems distracted or disinterested in your goals, reconsider the relationship. You may have extracted all its value, and it’s okay to move on.
As Tim Denning pointed out in Medium, “There’s no one Yoda Mentor that will guide you for the rest of your life and career.”
Keep in mind, this type of break up doesn’t mean the entire professional relationship is over. So don’t actually “ghost” your mentor when it’s time to call it quits. After all, your reputation doesn’t just follow you, it often precedes you. How you end the mentoring relationship can have an impact on your career.
If possible, end the relationship in person, with honesty, gratitude, and grace. Then, take time to appreciate what you learned from the experience. Even if that main takeaway is what to avoid in a future mentor.
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