Not Everyone Needs or Should Be a Mentor

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Mentoring is something that gets a lot of press time in our world. If you believe what you read, everyone wants one, everyone can see the benefit of being one and everyone should be a mentor and mentee several times throughout their life. I disagree – mentoring is not for everyone and here’s why:

Mentoring isn’t casual.

It is most often defined as aprofessional relationship in which an experienced person assists another in developing specific skills and knowledge that will enhance the less-experienced person’s professional and personal growth. It can take many forms, but it’s more than going out for coffee from time to time. The operative word here is ‘professional’. Professional means there is a structure and time limit to the relationship, there are a series of expectations on both sides and, like any relationship, needs clear boundaries to function. Be prepared to commit to the ground rules.

Mentoring can be a one-way street.

Though many mentors feel they grow from the mentoring relationship and say they can learn a lot from their mentees, the relationship is fundamentally designed to be a one-way transmission of information and advice. Though the best relationships are two-way, mentoring in the formal sense is a lot like parenting. Keeping your own counsel as a mentor and focusing on the mentee’s needs first, as well as staying in your lane when offering information and advice is key. It will require energy and maintenance to help your mentee grow. Be prepared to commit your time and energy without expectation of return.

Mentoring isn’t always the best approach.

Sometimes career growth doesn’t need more advice or information, particularly when it comes to helping young and mid-career women get up the chain into senior leadership. It may require sponsorship instead, that is directly getting the less experienced person involved in work projects and assignments that will advance their career and give them higher level visibility. Be prepared to consider other options if simple mentoring isn’t working to advance the mentee.

There are other ways to help.

If you aren’t up for the task of mentoring, it doesn’t mean you can’t help out less experienced people in your profession. You can coach, you can casually advise, you can challenge, and you can do many of the things a mentor can do without entering a direct mentoring relationship. This is where a quick cup of coffee, a few words at a networking event or a casual walking meeting comes in. By all means, offer a mentorship if you’ve got the energy, time and commitment, but otherwise, try something different. Remember that it’s a good thing, but not the only thing.

Had a different experience with a mentor or mentee or as one? Comment below. 

Katherine Lazaruk