It’s Not Me, It’s You: Why Your Mentoring Relationship Isn’t Working Out

Amy Thomasson
September 14, 2021

While a mentoring relationship is traditionally thought of as a senior leader providing guidance to a junior professional, mentoring can follow many pathways. In my own career, I’ve established relationships as both a mentor and a mentee through formal mentoring programs. I also receive professional guidance though a peer group of mid to senior-level female association leaders and continue to work on growing an informal “board” of professional advisors.

Mentoring matters in measurable ways. For mentees, this is reflected in improved career outcomes, a greater sense of engagement, and critical knowledge and insights. For mentors, an enhanced professional profile and a sense of personal fulfillment are just a few of the benefits. 

However, while most of us are inherently aware of the importance of establishing mentoring relationships, we’re failing at maintaining them. That’s why I collaborated with one of my mentees, Monae Redmond, Director of Member Services at the International Interior Design Association, to give you the top three reasons your mentoring relationship isn’t working.

No. 1: You’re not in the driver’s seat
Monae: As the mentee, it is your responsibility to drive the relationship. Have a discussion with your mentor at the beginning of the relationship to determine how often you would like to meet if you’d like the meetings to be in-person or by phone and establish your goals for the relationship.

Amy: As a mentor, I expect that mentees will help me the guesswork out of our partnership. First, they can do this by setting the terms and conditions of our relationship, including the frequency, duration, and means of communication as Monae mentioned. In addition to communication terms, I also look to mentees to set the terms of success for us, and for our relationship, as well as if and when the relationship should conclude or transform into something new.  

No. 2: You’re not prioritizing your time
Amy: I look to mentees to schedule our more formal conversations a few weeks in advance, and list out agenda items ahead of time, if possible. Not only does it reflect well on the individual, but it allows me time to better prepare thoughts and feedback to meet the mentee’s needs. My hope for mentees is that they’ll schedule our check-ins and consider that time to be as important as other meetings on their calendars. 

I also appreciate a simple meeting wrap-up after the call or in-person discussion. While the relationships I’ve developed with mentees are a gift in and of themselves, a thank you is a simple and gracious way to end any chat.

Monae: Respect your mentor’s time. When you schedule meetings, try your best not to cancel or reschedule.

No. 3: You’re not getting candid
Monae: I’ve seen mentees and mentors not communicate properly with each other. As a result, the mentee feels unsupported, and the mentor feels as if the mentee isn’t invested in the relationship. With all relationships, communication is key. Establish clear expectations early in the relationship so that you both can have a successful and fulfilling experience.

I also make sure to ask for constructive feedback. Your mentor has your best interest at heart and will give you information to help you grow. Take extensive notes and always have a plan of usage for all feedback given by your mentor.

Amy: Brené Brown has one of my favorite quotes on candid feedback: “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. Most of us avoid clarity because we tell ourselves that we’re being kind when what we’re actually doing is being unkind and unfair.” I mentor because I’m passionate about helping future leaders advance their careers. Be clear. Explicitly define your wants and needs. A mentoring relationship is the perfect opportunity to establish low risk, high reward candor.

You’ll get as much out of your mentoring relationship as you put into it, so avoid these simple mistakes and make mentoring meaningful.