A mentoring relationship has the potential to be one of the most positive factors in your professional success. In the business world, a mentor is there to guide and teach their mentee. They’re typically made up of more seasoned and experienced professionals who take green professionals under their wing, but of course there are many other dynamics you'll find in successful mentoring.
Traditional employability mentoring is more and more commonplace for Fortune 500 companies, conducted through formal mentorship programs. But hey, there's nothing stopping an entrepreneur or investor from finding a mentor of their very own! In fact, you may find someone more compatible by doing so!
The main thing you want to ask yourself is, "Is this mentor going to weigh me down or push me forward?" In other words, are they an anchor or a motor for you and your goals? Here’s how you know if your mentor is a good match for where you are and where you're headed.
Green Flags You'll Find in a "Motor" Mentor
Green Flag #1: You find meetings energizing.
When you leave your mentor after a meeting, how do you feel? If you’re left feeling inspired, energized, and ready to take on the day, you’re in a good relationship. Some people can leave you feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. These aren’t the people you want to be a mentor! Instead, focus on people who pour into your life. No social vampires, please!
Green Flag #2: You leave with new ideas.
While problem-solving isn’t the sole purpose of mentorship, it’s definitely a component. Your mentor should be skilled in helping you generate ideas. This doesn’t mean they give you the ideas. Rather, they equip you with the tools and the outside perspective you need to come up with your own solutions.
You might not leave a meeting having figured it all out, but if you’ve been given the tools to get there, you’re on the right path. Great mentors will inspire you to innovate, think outside the box, and come up with new ideas for your business.
Green Flag #3: There's respect on both sides
This cannot be stressed enough: respect is critical in a mentoring relationship. It’s not enough that one party has respect for the other. It must be on both sides. You obviously need a level of respect – even admiration – for your mentor to be receptive and open to their input. On the other hand, your mentor needs to respect you! If they feel a sense of superiority over you, it’s not likely to be a healthy relationship. They should believe in you and your potential as well as see you as a capable professional in your field.
Green Flag #4: You acknowledge one another’s flaws.
A mentor who pretends to be perfect isn’t worth listening to. None of us have it all figured out. In fact, some of the best lessons and growth in our lives will come from failure. Your mentor should be open about where they’ve failed (and more importantly, the lessons they learned from it), just as you should be. It shouldn’t feel shameful to admit where you’ve gone wrong. If anything, mentors and mentees should be able to share their flaws and encourage growth in one another.
Green Flag #5: You aren’t afraid to be the real you.
Finally, you should feel comfortable in your mentoring relationship. While there’s a level of professionalism to any mentorship, you’ve got to feel empowered to get personal, too. Your mentor shouldn’t make you feel judged or looked down upon for your mistakes or setbacks. Instead, it should be the kind of relationship where you can express your real thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
If you feel the need to censor yourself, hide the truth, or hold back your real feelings, chances are it’s not a good or beneficial relationship. After all, how can your mentor help you become the best version of yourself if they don’t get a full picture of who you are?
Green Flag #6: Communication is consistent and clear.
Commitment and communication are two of the core tenets of an effective mentoring relationship. It’s incredibly important that you can get in touch with your mentor and that you have consistently scheduled meetings with one another. You also should have communication styles that mesh. Beware if misunderstandings are frequent (particularly if it results in flaring tempers) and you’re left wondering what was meant by what your mentor said.
You want a mentor who tells you about their honest thoughts with clarity, tact, and compassion.
Green Flag #7: You’re pushing yourself more.
At the end of the day, your mentoring relationship should inspire you to become the best version of yourself. If your mentor has you feeling fine where you are, it’s not a relationship worth pursuing. You want a mentor who is going to push you – help you identify your shortcomings, shine where you excel, and inspire you to reach a higher standard.
Red Flags You'll Find in an "Anchor"—or Worse, Toxic—Mentor
Mentorship relationships are tough. They’re also well worth the effort if you’ve hitched your wagon to the right horse! Wherever you are in your mentorship journey, you’ve got to know what makes it a good working relationship—and what makes one that will keep you spinning in place.
Red Flag #1: They speak poorly of others.
While mentors can act as a sounding board for your problems and frustrations, beware if they spend any amount of time badmouthing anyone – employers, coworkers, bosses, and anyone else up and down the ladder. Not only can this degenerate into idle gossip, but it isn’t beneficial for either of you. All it can do is drive a rift between you and the people being spoken of. Your mentor, like you, should be above reproach – and that includes avoiding disparaging others.
Red Flag #2: They deflect responsibility.
The last thing you need is a mentor who shirks responsibility. This can be a refusal to take accountability for mistakes and a lack of commitment to your mentoring relationship. You want your mentor to be someone you can rely on and believe. Deflecting responsibility for their actions and shortcomings only reveals that they have a lot of room to grow before they’re cut out to be a mentor.
Red Flag #3: They’re egocentric.
Bad mentors like to hear themselves talk – and often about themselves. They may even feel a sense of superiority over you. That’s the last thing you want! The job of the mentor is to help you realize your potential and navigate your career with skill and integrity. They can’t do that if they’re focused solely on themselves and their own advancement.
Red Flag #4: You don’t feel the need to improve.
If mentors are there to help you reach your full potential, they must help you see where you have room to grow. If your mentor leaves you feeling as though you’re fine just as you are and you have no room for improvement, you’ve got a bad mentor. Look for someone who is going to give you the tough (yet constructive) critique. They’re not there to be your yes-man – they’re there to help you become the best version of yourself.
Red Flag #5: They’re bad listeners.
Listening well is a lot harder than most people think. A bad mentor will steamroll you in any given conversation, leaving little room for listening, let alone a productive conversation. Beware the person who always turns the conversation back to themselves. You need a mentor that listens to you and waits to respond.
Red Flag #6: They ignore set boundaries.
The mentor/mentee relationship is a special one. The context of that relationship very much matters. Whether you’re in a workplace program or seeking out a mentor on your own, you’ve got to have an idea of where to set boundaries. Make your expectations clear and do not tolerate a violation of your boundaries.
Red Flag #7: They deny their own weaknesses.
No mentor is perfect. It makes sense that a mentor would want to present a pristine image to their mentee – after all, they’re supposed to be the expert! Part of being a good mentor, though, is admitting to shortcomings. Even mentors have room for growth and that is a learning opportunity for both parties. Mentors who deny their flaws and failures may inadvertently set unattainable expectations.
Red Flag #8: Their feedback isn’t helpful.
Feedback, both positive and negative, must be constructive to be of any use. You shouldn’t leave your mentor feeling you’ve done a good job without knowing why and how you can apply your success to future endeavors. In the same way, it’s not helpful to be told that you’ve failed or otherwise performed poorly without insights into what went wrong and how to correct the issue. Look for mentors who always present feedback with your ongoing growth in mind.