LMA Communication

Being a mentor is both a humbling and rewarding experience.  Most of us shy away from asserting ourselves as “experts” on something, and facing the responsibility of influencing someone eager to gain words of wisdom (and possibly a magic formula) from you can be daunting.

Too often, we forget that mentoring is primarily about developing a strong professional relationship that benefits both parties and provides valuable support and assurance to someone looking for the best way to progress in one’s career.

Most mentors take their role and responsibility seriously but their noble intentions can undermine the success of the initiative.  Here are some common mistakes that can derail the goals of the experience.

Mistake # 1:  Trying to be an authority on everything.

Let your mentee know what your areas of expertise and knowledge are.  When we find ourselves in a mentoring role, and our mentee asks questions about various issues, it’s easy to attempt to provide answers even though we aren’t really qualified.  Avoid trying to be a super hero.  Create some boundaries at the outset to let your mentee know where you can be helpful.  Don’t be afraid to admit your vulnerabilities and those areas where you don’t feel comfortable giving advice.

On the other hand, don’t put yourself down or sound too self-effacing in general.  A mentor should display confidence and be comfortable in the mentor role.  You have much ability and value to add to your mentee’s experience, and your demeanor should function as a positive role model.

Mistake #2: Getting too involved in the mentee’s life.

 As a mentor, you need to have a clear idea of how you should approach the mentee’s issues.  You aren’t responsible for all your mentee’s problems or complications, particularly in family or personal matters.  One mentor had a mentee who couldn’t focus on career issues because she had a freeloading sister (and the sister’s boyfriend) whose presence was draining the mentee’s energy and sense of purpose.  The mentor, although tempted to jump in with advice about tough love, quickly realized that the woman’s personal problems were not within the scope of the mentoring goals.

 Mistake #3:  Involving your mentee in your own issues or work-related problems.

Your mentee is not your executive assistant.  Don’t abuse the relationship by asking him or her to perform tasks that you should assign to someone who should be fulfilling that responsibility.  And, avoid sharing your own personal problems with your mentee, although discussing your work challenges and approaches to issues can be useful topics for conversation.

In the final analysis, mentoring sessions should focus on those areas that can be most beneficial to a person who is open to learning from your experience and becoming the beneficiary of your relationships and lessons learned.  Avoiding insidious traps that can waste time and take your eye off the ball can make your experience much more rewarding for you both.


Beverly Y. Langford is President of LMA Communication, Inc.® a consulting, training, and coaching firm that works with organizations and individuals on strategic communication, message development, effective interpersonal communication skills, team building, and leadership development.