If you’re becoming a mentor and you’ve ever wondered what the qualities of a good mentor are, it can be helpful to first understand what NOT to do. Consider the following seven sins of business mentoring as the anti-guide to becoming a mentor, and avoid them like the plague.
We’ll start the list with the more venial sins, that is, business mentoring sins that are often committed without intention and malice. These sins can weaken your relationship with your mentee, but it’s certainly possible to be forgiven and work on improving on the qualities of a good mentor. From there, we’ll move on to discuss the more serious, mortal sins of business mentoring. When these sins are committed, they can totally destroy the business mentoring relationship.
Sin #1: Being Unresponsive to the Mentee
If you’re a professional mentor, chances are your schedule is pretty packed. However, that’s no excuse for canceling appointments with your mentee or not responding promptly to their messages. Try shorter, more frequent meetings for mentoring and coaching rather than less frequent marathon sessions. Use mentoring software so that you can meet virtually with your mentee, and have check-ins automatically scheduled. If you really don’t have the time to meet with your mentee, don’t commit to a business mentoring program.
Sin #2: Failing to Listen
Good skills related to listening are some of the most important qualities of a good mentor. This means that when your mentee is talking, they have your undivided attention, you’re mirroring or paraphrasing, and asking follow-up questions. Too often, sinful mentors use time with their mentor as an opportunity to climb on their own personal soapbox to pontificate about the world. It’s not about you, it’s about your mentee.
Sin #3: Not Keeping Information Confidential
There is possibly no faster way to erode trust with your mentee than blabbing their personal correspondence with you. Part of the benefit in business mentorship is that the mentee can be vulnerable with their mentor, which allows them to discuss and explore issues that can be hard to talk about. However, sharing that information with others or worse, using that information for your personal gain, is a big no-no.
Sin #4: Creating a “Mini-Me” out of Your Mentee
As a business mentor, it’s important to remember that your mentee’s path to success will necessarily be different than your own. They don’t need to adopt your opinions, mannerisms, and style to be successful; in fact, becoming a “Mini-Me” is detrimental to the mentee’s development. The purpose of a business mentoring relationship is to help the mentee grow into the best version of themselves, and achieve their goals - not the mentor’s.
Sin #5: Underestimating Your Mentee
One important role of a mentor is to provide critical feedback to the mentee. This can help the mentee improve, as it can sometimes be challenging for the mentee to receive clear constructive feedback from other sources. However, the mentor should also acknowledge the strengths and potential that the mentee has. If the mentor underestimates the mentee, they aren’t likely to be very helpful to the mentee, and can actually hold the mentee back.
Sin #6: Trying to Make the Business Mentoring Relationship into “Something More”
There’s a clear power imbalance in a business mentoring relationship. The mentor is typically two (or more) levels above the mentee in the company hierarchy, and often 10 or more years senior, and simply by virtue of being the mentor the mentor holds significant sway with the mentee (and others). Therefore, the mentor has a specific responsibility to not take advantage of this power difference. If that’s not possible, the mentor should take steps to end the mentoring relationship or ask the mentoring program manager to be matched to a different mentee.
Sin #7: Using the Mentee for Personal Gain
Out of all of the mentoring sins, this one might be the most serious. The role of a mentor is to help the mentee progress in their career, not for the mentor to get ahead. While it’s true that there are many benefits of mentoring that apply to the mentor (like increased job satisfaction, improved communication and leadership skills, and empathy), these benefits only come when the mentor puts the mentee first. Doing things like encouraging the mentee to work on projects that benefit the mentor professionally, using information that the mentee shares for personal gain, or use them or the business mentoring relationship for political purposes is forbidden. These are relationship-destroying actions, and it’s unlikely that your business mentoring relationship will survive these behaviors.
If you’re a new mentor or considering joining a business mentoring relationship as a mentor: avoid these sins at all costs. If you’ve already served as a mentor and recognize yourself in some of these behaviors: repent! It’s never too late to improve and develop the qualities of a good mentor.