Mentoring: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Do you have a mentor? Or are you actively serving as a mentor for someone else?

As leaders, this is often an informal role we naturally take on. As business professionals, it can also be a very structured and formal career development program.

The Good…

A mentor can be a most positive influence in one’s developing career.  Sharing the wisdom of experience, helping to expand networks, providing direction along a career or education path; these are all common functions of a mentor.  In The Mentor’s Spirit, Marsha Sinetar wrote,

A mentor is a person, guide or a teacher – a keeper of selective wisdoms that we hope to gain.

Sinetar went on to describe virtue as “a mentor’s most powerful tool.” Virtue is revealed in the integrity that mentors bring to the mentoring relationship.  This, in turn, opens the door for trust.

Trust establishes the safe environment in which honest self-reflection can take place.  Only then can growth occur.

The Bad…

When the mentoring relationship does not work out, it can negatively affect on both the mentor and the protege.  This may depend on the circumstances surrounding the “break-up.”  On May 24, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an article titled, When Mentoring Goes Bad, written by Dawn E. Chandler and Lilian Eby.

There are some fairly ordinary reasons for mentoring relationships to detour from the original path, or even end altogether.  A personal life event such as a major health challenge can certanly have an impact.  A job change or move can force a major change or an ending.  Sometimes, the two people simply find that, after giving it a go, their personalities or values don’t quite mesh.  An amicable end can be agreed to and both parties move on.

Ideally though, mentors and proteges are carefully matched for personality, skills, goals, and communciation styles.

The Ugly…

Sometimes, however, mentoring relationships can go very, very wrong.  The WSJ article identifies several ways this can happen. Among them are:

Neglect of Proteges

A mentor who is not committed and actively participating in the protege’s growth – perhaps due to their own career distractions – can have long lasting, damaging results.  A protege may suffer from a bruised ego and abandonment. They may refuse to seek help later on, and may end up leaving the organization in disappointment over promises unfulfilled.

Mentors who Manipulate

The article describes this challenge as most common when the mentor and protege are in the same reporting tree.  A mentor without the purest motivation may succumb to manipulation tactics such as inappropriate delegation of work, politicking, or even tyranny.

Proteges who Manipulate or Sabotage

Although the protege is more often not in the “power” position, they can certainly cause damage to the mentor’s reputation.  In a quest for power, or perhaps as revenge for being passed over for a promotion, untruths or other actions can be initiated by a dissatisfied protege.

On the other hand…

Positive leadership behaviors can make all the difference.

The WSJ article goes on to describe how mentoring relationships work the best.  There must be a structure and plan around it.

  • Establish a goal
  • Develop an action plan
  • Build in progress checkpoints

Additionally, it is always a good idea to share and set expectations of both parties, and to periodically review these. A discussion of expectations might include an orientation program to clearly understand their respective roles. The presence of integrity and the development of trust is also key.  Lastly, some advance discussion of how the relationship will end helps to make that future process smoother for all involved.

Do you have mentoring lessons learned that you can share? What worked?  What didn’t?  What are your experiences?


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Eleanor Biddulph
Eleanor Biddulph
 is the EVP of Client Services at Progressive Medical, Inc.
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Edited by Mike Weppler

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4 responses to “Mentoring: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Mentoring: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly --·

  2. I have not had a bad mentoring experience, so I can share somethings which worked for me. In the first place, starting with the belief that the mentee has it in her to succeed, helped me in implicitly empowering the mentee from the beginning.Secondly, the goal setting process at the beginning( for both of us) is crucial. Often the mentee has an unclear goal, and helping her to clarify her own goal, although a little painstaking at sometime , but always useful in the long run, worked well for me. Finally, the desire to help, to nourish and to help someone grow in an unselfish manner, just for the sake of it, like one tends to a growing plant in one’s garden, has been the clincher for me.


  3. Amitabha – Thank you for reading my post and commenting. I love the comparison of mentoring to tending to a plant in the garden. Thanks for sharing that! El


  4. Why users still use to read news papers when in this technological world the whole
    thing is available on net?


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