A professional mentorship is one of those good things in life that must come to an end. A mentor and mentee aren’t like swans: they don’t “mate” for life. At times, people can hold a deep reverence for animals like swans and seahorses because they mate for life. There’s a certain comfort and sentimentality in the idea of a relationship in which someone will always be there for the other. And, a professional mentorship is not like a marriage: even the best mentoring relationships don’t last forever. A successful professional mentorship doesn't need to go on in perpetuity.
While there’s a lot of advice around finding a mentor or mentee and starting a business mentoring relationship, we don’t talk as much about ending a professional mentorship. How do you know when it’s time to end a mentoring relationship? How do you say goodbye to your mentor or mentee? How can the mentor and mentee get closure?
How long do mentoring relationships last?
Generally, an effective mentoring relationship takes some time to develop. Most business mentoring relationships need at least six months to develop a rapport to support the growth of the mentee. Formal mentoring programs are commonly 12-18 months long. On the other side of the spectrum, there’s several examples of successful business mentoring relationships lasting for decades.
However, the length of a mentoring relationship shouldn’t be decided by arbitrary factors, but instead should be driven by the mentee’s professional development goals. What is the mentee trying to accomplish through the mentoring relationship? Once those specific goals are completed, it’s time for both the mentor and the mentee to move on.
If there isn’t a natural ending date for the professional mentorship (such as the course of an internship, or a formal mentoring program) it can be a good idea to set a rough date at the beginning of the relationship. That way, both the mentor and mentee are on the same page when it comes to the duration of the mentoring relationship.
Ending a Business Mentoring Relationship Early
Sometimes, it’s necessary to end a professional mentorship early. Perhaps the mentee’s goals have changed, and the mentor isn’t the right person to help the mentee with their career goals anymore. Or, perhaps the mentor has a change in their life that makes it impractical for the mentor to continue to support the mentee. However, much of the time when mentoring relationships end, it’s due to dissatisfaction of either the mentor or the mentee (or both). Sometimes, the mentor and mentee fail to connect, and it’s just not a good match.
When the mentoring relationship needs to end due to external factors (such as a mentor or mentee moving away or changing jobs), it’s fairly straightforward to end the professional mentorship. However, things can be murkier when it’s due to internal factors, like a lack of compatibility. In those cases, sometimes the mentor or mentee simply start to fade away and become less and less available. They will avoid having a difficult conversation, either in an attempt to spare the feelings of the other person or their own.
Whatever the reason for the split, it’s important for both parties to talk transparently about the reasons for the dissolution of the mentoring relationship. Without these conversations, a mentor or mentee may be left wondering where they went wrong, or even internalize the other person’s behavior. For example, if a mentor stops communicating with a mentee, the mentee may interpret the situation as a sign that they are not worthy of the time and attention required of a mentor, when in reality the mentor may be retreating from the professional mentorship due to unrelated factors.
Speak directly and candidly to your mentoring partner if you feel that you need to end the relationship. Although it can be awkward, it’s better to acknowledge a lack of chemistry or other issues in the relationship rather than “ghosting” the other person.
When ending the mentoring relationship, it’s a good idea to review the mentoring plan that’s in place. Debriefing the relationship together can help both parties gain closure, as well as memorialize some lessons learned. Together, discuss questions such as:
- Were the goals outlined in the mentoring plan achieved?
- What contributed to the success of the professional mentorship?
- What obstacles did the mentor and mentee encounter, and what tactics were successful in overcoming them?
- If either the mentor or mentee could rewind and start the business mentoring relationship over again, what would they do differently?
Finally, discuss what’s next after the business mentoring relationship comes to an end. Sometimes, business mentoring relationships can morph into other types of relationships, such as personal friendship. If either the mentor or mentee would like to continue a relationship, they should make their wants known.
Ending a professional mentorship properly should be a priority for both mentor and mentee. Both parties should speak transparently and directly about the relationship in order for the professional mentorship to be successful, and to preserve a professional relationship moving forward.