7 Mistakes Mentors Make that Reduce Their Effectiveness

Keith Krach
January 24, 2017

Choosing to act as a mentor is a responsibility that can yield valuable results to both the person who has been asked to serve as a mentor and his or her protégé. When conducted correctly, a mentoring relationship is an excellent way to develop professional skills, increase networking connections, and gain fresh perspectives for both parties. While the responsibility for an effective mentoring relationship rests with the mentee as much as it does with the mentor, mentors can harm the effectiveness of the partnership if they make one of the following mistakes.

1. Not establishing guidelines

One of the first mistakes that mentors often make is neglecting to establish a framework for how the mentoring relationship will operate. At the first meeting with a new mentee, all mentors should start a conversation about what the mentee wants to gain from the partnership. Mentors should also be clear about what they are willing and able to offer in the confines of the mentoring relationship, as well as the expectations they have for the people that they choose to mentor. By establishing these guidelines, a mentor is able to avoid awkward conflicts that leave mentees disappointed and that have the potential to ruin professional relationships.

2. Being unclear about availability

The only professionals who should agree to mentor others are those who are willing to make time for it. Those who become mentors are typically asked for their help because they have created a successful career for themselves and therefore maintain a busy schedule. Any professional who is considering a role as a mentor needs to be committed to the process and willing to make him or herself available to a mentee for questions, even if simply by phone or email. A mentor who fails to clarify expectations about availability or who neglects to make time for a mentee undermines the purpose of being a mentor in the first place.

3. Giving unsolicited advice

Within a mentoring relationship, there are bound to be occasions where a mentor recognizes experiences in the mentee’s professional life that he or she has also gone through. In these instances, it can be tempting for the mentor to offer advice before it has been requested, but effective mentors wait for their protégés to ask questions before making suggestions. The point of being a mentor is not to take on the responsibility of fixing a mentee’s business problems, but to help them develop the skills needed to face and overcome challenges on their own.  

4. Mentoring someone without a connection

No mentor should agree to work with an individual with whom he or she lacks chemistry. Mentoring requires the mentor and mentee to get to know each other from a personal standpoint as well as a professional one, which can be difficult to facilitate if the pair lacks rapport. Mentoring relationships may last for years, so it is important that mentors do not agree to mentor someone who they anticipate will be difficult to work with personally.

5. Giving criticism too harshly

When a mentee comes to his or her mentor with a question or a thought about a major business decision, it’s the job of the mentor to consider the prospect through his or her own lens of experience and deliver the most helpful advice. When a mentor disagrees with the mentee’s suggestion, it is important to deliver constructive criticism, rather than shutting down the mentee’s ideas. Mentors who deliver criticism too harshly run the risk of putting strain on the relationship and reducing the likelihood that their mentee will come to them with new ideas in the future.

6. Hiding past mistakes

It may be surprising for some mentors to learn that hiding past mistakes from a protégé can reduce the effectiveness of the partnership. Because mentors are seen as role models in many ways, some professionals who become mentors feel the need to focus solely on their past successes in order to inspire their mentees. However, embracing honesty and being open with a mentee about failures as well as successes provides a more valuable lesson. Mentees who understand that even successful professionals had to face and learn from failure will be much better equipped to tackle setbacks in their own ventures.

7. Expecting a mentee to be like you

Mentors support and encourage their protégés, helping them work toward professional goals. The mistake that a mentor can make here is to attempt to push a mentee to pursue the goals that he or she would set, rather than the goals that the mentee has articulated for him or herself. A mentor should never expect a protégé to follow all advice that is given, or to only make business decisions that the mentor approves of. The point of this type of partnership is not for the mentor to shape the mentee in his or her own image, but to help them along their professional path.

Keith Krach

Keith Krach is Chairman of DocuSign, The Global Standard for Digital Transaction Management.