How to Know When to Fire Your Mentor

Leaving Your Mentor

Mentors aren’t just for young people in school. Even experienced business owners can use a good mentor.

Mentors give us jump starts on projects we are working on and help make connections which are invaluable for our progress. They give us an injection of optimism when everything is going wrong. They remind us, in the heat of whatever we are working on, of why we got started, how much progress we’ve made, or how close we are to success.

A great mentor is absolutely and truly priceless.

At the same time, some mentors, without explicitly meaning to, can actually do more harm than good. You can waste a lot of time following "experienced" advice. It’s not that you want to burn the bridge on a relationship, but it’s also important to understand the circumstances for which you may need to find a new mentor:

This should go without saying, but there is a professional line which mentors shouldn’t cross. Unfortunately it still needs to be said, because sexual harassment is hardly a past problem. There is no justification whatsoever for behavior which is anything less than professional. If it happens, it's time to fire your mentor.

Too much talking, not enough listening. The most successful mentors often help you find the answer you had all along; you just couldn’t see it because you were too close to the situation. They do this by listening empathetically, and when they talk, they are generally asking questions.

If your mentor cannot seem to offer you a generous ear, it may be time to move on.

Your mentor's advice is too general. One of the things I’ve noticed about mentors who talk too much without really having anything to contribute: they give very general "advice" or comments in response to very specific situations. Sometimes what you need is specific help on who you need to call that afternoon, not a discourse on how to set up your management team.

Too many stories from the 1990s and earlier. Twenty-five years ago, the only technology company among the top ten components of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was IBM. We barely had an Internet, much less Google or social media. Most mobile phone were the size of bricks and were used only for making telephone calls.

For someone in the prime of their career during that time, the world is dizzyingly different now. It’s not that no one over 40 is qualified to be a mentor (I certainly hope not!), and it’s not that some stories and situations from the world of business don’t have universal truths to learn from. At the same time, too many stories of reminiscence with dubious connections to your contemporary situation may indicate it’s time for a new mentor.

"I’ve been around a lot longer than you." I heard someone say this to a room full of startup entrepreneurs, and I thought "who needed to check your driver’s license to figure this out?" When someone says this they are often really saying, "I'm more experienced and wiser than you, and therefore you really aren’t capable of contradicting me or disqualifying my opinion." This attitude can be dangerous for you.

It's about them, not you. The previous five reasons are really a subset of this one. Sometimes mentors need validation themselves. They may be retired or semi-retired, sometimes involuntarily so. They are "giving back" by mentoring, but what they are really looking for, down deep, is confirmation that they still matter and are important. In that case, the relationship may be good for both of you, and that’s ok. At the same time, the relationship won’t have the mentorship value you expected.

The value of great a mentor is incalculable. It's important to understand, however, when a mentor relationship really doesn't have value for you anymore. Preserve the relationship if it's still good for you, but take the initiative and find another person who can offer all the benefits inherent in a good mentor.

Photo by Arkadiusz Szymczak on

Through Ray Business Advisors and BookKeeping Express of Greater Atlanta, John works with entrepreneurs to remove accounting frustration, improve profitability, increase the long-term value of their business, and lower the stress of business ownership.

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