Joni Daniels

Mentor Beware

The formal and informal mentoring relationships created within an organization or between professional colleagues are becoming more and more common as people look to develop talent and acquire knowledge. Being a Mentor can be very rewarding. Providing support, suggestions and information to someone eager for it can enrich both your career and theirs. Sometimes however, in an effort to provide assistance, some Mentors go too far. If you want to avoid crossing that line, it’s good to know where it is in the first place.

Avoid:

Putting Your Money Into Their Business Ideas
Investing in your Mentee’s business changes your role: you have now gone from Mentor to Partner. You now have a ‘not so hidden’ agenda as well as a conflict of interest. It’s going to be impossible to be objective about your advice and feedback when your money is at stake. Your Mentee can become wary about telling you anything negative because they are now worried about an unfavorable reaction. Rather than invest – assure them that you are honored to be considered as a potential investor but prefer to keep the relationship as a mentoring partnership only.

Working for Them
It doesn’t really matter whether you are hired with or without pay – when you do the actual work, you have become an employee. The work your Mentee is responsible for should either be done by them or they should be hiring someone (else) to do the job. Your role is to work behind the scenes. A Mentor can help determine the best way to get things done or provide feedback, but should not be doing the actual work.

Becoming a Personal Counselor
While you can (and probably will) discuss life issues and challenges, pay attention to the line between work and personal issues. If the Mentee is coping with a large psychological concern (e.g., overwhelming anxiety, depression or euphoria, divorce, substance use, parenting, aging parents, a crisis of faith), a Mentor does not give personal advice and counseling. Be willing to listen and point out that you are not an expert in that personal area, and are not a therapsit or counslor. Suggest a call to a local or national hotline that deals with the specific concern (or if the firm/employer has an EAP, suggest an internal resource.)

It’s not always easy to know where the limits of the Mentor/Mentee relationship are. Many of you who are Menoring others are eager to help and are not always clear about where the limits lie. And a lot of Mentees are eager to have trusted Mentors play additional roles in thier lives. Having a clear idea of what things are definitely out of bounds from the start can help you identify areas to avoid.