Monday, May 24, 2010

When Mentoring Fails

Scholars Dawn Chandler and Lillian Eby have an informative article in the Wall Street Journal today about the pitfalls that one may encounter in mentori-protege relationships. They offer five great questions to consider as you assess a mentoring relationship:

1. If you are mentoring someone, are you giving them enough of your time and interesting work?

2. Are the personality and work habits of your protégé similar to yours, and if not, are you able to make sure that doesn't get in the way of working together?

3. Have you and your protégé clearly outlined his or her professional-development goals?

4. If you are being mentored, is the work interesting, and does your mentor give you credit for any projects you complete for him or her?

5. Do you feel like part of a team, and are you treated in an open, respectful manner?

At the end of the article, they suggest that people should prepare for the end of a mentoring relationship, i.e. how and when will the relationship have run its course and reached the point of no longer adding value for either party. I think this point can be taken one step further. Specifically, we have to consider what might happen when the protege becomes the equal, or even surpasses, the mentor. That occurs in many situations, and it can become very difficult to manage. For instance, consider the situation that unfolded when Theo Epstein, GM of the Boston Red Sox, began to become much more of an equal to Larry Lucchino, his long-time mentor and CEO of the team. That dynamic became very difficult to manage, and their working relationship nearly came to a permanent end until differences were finally resolved. I think scholars Chandler and Eby make a good point when they recommend thinking in advance about how a mentoring relationship will unfold and even end as people's careers progress. Those preparations may help avoid a falling out in the future.

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