Mentorship: 3 Mistakes Mentors Make and How to Avoid Them

The Express Blog has launched a new series called The Value of Mentorship for leaders and job seekers. This is part seven of the 12-part series, so check back for new weekly installments! 

Mentorship can be a wonderful experience, but it isn’t immune to challenges or difficulties. When you’re the mentor, there are key behaviors that you want to avoid to help the relationship with your mentee progress and ultimately succeed. Evaluate yourself to check for these common mistakes mentors make and put in the work to avoid their negative consequences.  

  1. Overstepping due to a lack of boundaries.  

Boundaries are an important part of mentorships that can maintain professionalism and support mentorship-life balance. From determining what areas of life you’ll discuss to having a mutual understanding of confidentiality as the default for interactions, clear expectations are beneficial for you and your mentee.  

Your mentee should set goals early, and so should you. Discuss what your mentee needs—perhaps they want to see you demonstrate a skill, review a project, or connect them to your network. Ensure you understand what they hope to gain so you can steer them on the correct path and avoid overstepping. Feedback should be a two-way street with constructive criticism allowed. But be mindful of being overly critical of them or their work.  

  1. Competing with the mentee.  

Whether you love competition or see its value in bettering one another, competing with your mentee is a different story. You shouldn’t attempt to prove that you’re better than your mentee, or steamroll over their ideas, work, or accomplishments. As the mentor, it’s understood you have knowledge and skills that your mentee lacks. That doesn’t make them inferior; it just means you have different experiences. Remember, you can learn from them too.  

Should competition motivate your mentee, it might be a great means to make progress. However, rules should be agreed upon from the start and checkpoints to monitor negativity should be established.  

  1. Acting like a boss instead of a mentor.  

In a mentorship, your role is to offer support as your mentee works to learn and improve themself. While you can offer training resources and mock projects, you won’t be giving your mentee commands. Mentorship should be a protected space where mentees can be vulnerable and transparent about their weaknesses. Meet that transparency with kindness, humility, and understanding—odds are, you were once at their level.  

Applying principles of self-determination theory to mentorship can empower mentees to take initiative in their own development, and help you further define your role. This theory is based on intrinsic motivation as it relates to autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Encouraging self-reflection, competence building, and autonomy-supportive environments are strategies to apply the theory to mentoring, according to Mentorloop. Prioritizing these areas can limit the need for you to give direction, as your mentee will be empowered to determine their path and motivations.  

Check out previous posts from the Express Blog’s Value of Mentorship Series:    

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