Few of us can accomplish great things without some mentoring. Whether formal or informal, within your professional organization or between colleagues, mentoring has become 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 who is eager to for it can enrich both your career and theirs. But in an effort to provide assistance, some Mentors go too far. In order to avoid crossing the line, it’s good to know where the line is in the first place.
- Put your money into their business ideas – Investing in your Mentee’s business changes your role; you have now gone from Mentor to Partner. Now you have a ‘not so hidden’ agenda as well as a definite conflict of interest. You are not going to be objective about your advice and feedback when it is your money is at stake. The Mentee can become wary about telling you anything negative because they will be worried about an unfavorable reaction.
INSTEAD: Assure them that you are honored to be considered as a potential investor but prefer to keep the relationship as a mentoring partnership only.
- Work for them – It really doesn’t 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.
INSTEAD: A Mentor can help them determine the best way to get things done or provide feedback, but should not be doing the actual work.
- Become 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), remember that a Mentor does not give personal advice and counseling. Be willing to listen, but point out that you are not an expert in that personal area.
INSTEAD: Suggest a call to a local or national hotline that deals with the specific concern (or if the/their 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. Having a clear idea of what things are definitely out of bounds from the start can help you identify areas to avoid.