The Unintended Consequences Of Mentorship

During my career I have been fortunate to be a mentor to several talented individuals, and to have had wonderful mentors myself.

For me, there are few rewards in leadership that are as good as those that come from mentoring someone and watching them grow into successful leaders themselves. Similarly, I can attribute much of what I have accomplished to the mentorship I have received throughout my career. Mentors who generously gave their time and wisdom to me and modeled behavior I wanted to emulate.

And at the same time, I have discovered some unintended consequences of both being a mentor and having a mentor.

Occasionally, we are seen as mentors without realizing it. We become role models for others sometimes without knowing it. So what’s the issue? Being a role model equates with expectations. When we don’t meet those expectations, the impact can be crushing. After all, we are supposed to be wise and set a good example, and, know what to do, and, do it right… and guess what? We all fail sometimes; we all do things we aren’t proud of sometimes. In short, mentors are humans and if we expect our mentors to always do the right thing, the best thing, we will always be disappointed.

And as mentors, we forget sometimes that mentorship is not forever. We must recognize when it is time to evolve the relationship and recognize when our mentee grows beyond their mentor. It’s not that we don’t benefit from mentoring at every point in our lives; rather it is that a single mentor fulfills a role at a point in time. And then it gets sticky. What happens next? The relationship was uneven. Can it move to a peer relationship? Or does it end? Endings are sad, and sometimes necessary. In my experience, it is delightful when a mentor becomes a friend and peer. For this to happen, it takes awareness, intention and ego set aside by both people. Not easy.

So, the next time you become a mentor or seek a mentor, ask yourself, and even better ask your mentor/mentee:

  • What do I expect from me in this relationship?
  • What do you expect from me in this relationship?

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain