Entering mentorship comes with expectation on both sides. Mentors expect to impart wisdom on the future leaders of the field. Mentees expect to have reliable support during the rocky beginning phases of their careers. Schedules are discussed, contact information is exchanged, and hopes are high. Understandably, neither party spends time thinking about where the mentorship will be in a year, 5 years, or even 10 years. All conversation centers on the now. But in 5 years, will things still be the same? If not, what’s the proper way to handle the changes that will occur?
A difficult aspect of mentorship, which often gets glossed over, is the conclusion. There are several reasons that mentoring relationships can come to an end, but one of the most common is mentee growth. Typically, mentorships begin with the intent of easing the novice’s transition into a new career. During that time, mentors share networking connections, wisdom, and expert advice when problems arise. But what happens down the line when the mentee is flourishing and no longer needs the same type of guidance?
· Should you keep a mentor who has no experience in the direction that your career has led you?
· What should you do if you feel your success has surpassed the level of your mentor’s?
· If your mentee is asking questions about technologies and best practices that you weren’t trained in, should you still try to help?
· Are you holding back your mentee from moving on to someone who better suits his/her current position?
These are all plausible situations that many people face every day, but fail to address head-on. So, what should you do if you find yourself in the same position?
You have two choices; redefine your relationship or end it. Redefining your mentorship could include transitioning your former teacher-student dynamic into a friendship where you both seek and give information equally.
Mentees: You can now show gratitude by helping your former teacher through some of her business problems.
Mentors: You should be proud of how far your protégée has come; now you can reap the benefits!
However, if egos are causing a problem, tensions are mounting, or your bond is growing weak, it may be time to (amicably) part ways before damage occurs. Growth is a healthy part of life, but it can alter your perspective about who you will need around to help you with your next step. If it’s time to say goodbye, do so knowing that the time you shared was well spent. Remember that ending the mentorship doesn’t need to be a negative experience. It also doesn’t need to be the end of all communication. The benefits of mentoring are vast – it would be pointless to completely ruin the connection you worked so hard to build. You still have an opportunity to preserve your business connection (in spite of ending the mentorship).
Mentees: Express your gratitude. Your mentor didn’t have to share her time, knowledge and expertise with you, but she did. Credit her when you have a chance to, and check in every now and then to say hi.
Mentors: This is your chance to be understanding and wish your mentee the best of luck in his future endeavors. Speak kindly of him in his absence and be cordial to him when you see him in the field.
Most mentorships skip this step altogether and let things fizzle out over time. One person stops calling, the other stops returning emails, and before they know it, they’ve become nothing more than distant acquaintances. When they coincidentally bump into each other in public, things can be awkward and strained. Instead of maintaining what was formerly a viable connection, they’ve lost it.
Don’t let a similar sad ending be what comes of your mentorship. If you sense that growth is the source of the changes you’ve noticed, schedule a conversation with your mentor/mentee and have a heart-to-heart about what the future holds. No matter the outcome, remember that there is room for friendship after mentorship.