Skip to main content

When mentoring malfunctions

Mentoring's one of the standard activities that you'll come across in the information profession. We're very caring and sharing like that, wanting to support people in their professional development.

As you start your career as an information professional, you'll regularly hear the advice: get a mentor.
Or, as you advance in your career and seem to be doing well, you'll be advised to become a mentor.

This is fine: yes, both being mentored and being a mentor can be excellent relationships, and very useful for both parties involved. But.....mentoring relationships are like any other relationships: they can go wrong. And they can go wrong in a whole lot of ways.

I've heard of mentors and mentees whose relationships have malfunctioned due to mismanagement, wrong focus, disinterest, and inappropriate behaviour. Like any other relationship, bullying and abuse can happen in mentor/mentee arrangements, but it can be very difficult for the participants to escape the relationship.

However, this seems to be the side of mentoring that isn't ever discussed. There's plenty of guidance and information out there to help you with finding a mentor, or to help you to get involved as a mentor, and to tell you how positive a relationship it will be. But there seems to be no guidance for when either the mentor or mentee want to go their separate ways. There's also no discussion (other than in whispered asides, or confidential chats with trusted contacts) that identifies those participants in mentoring relationships who should really not be allowed to participate in any others due to their actions. This can leave those who're stuck in a bad relationship feeling that it's their fault that it's not working, as it seems to work well for everyone else.

So, what are your options if, as a mentor or mentee, your relationship isn't working? Well...you can confront the person causing the problems, and get the issues out into the open. That might work, but it might also blow up in your face, and cause all sorts of further problems. So it doesn't seem that direct confrontation is the best way to manage failing relationships. Additionally, if you're a mentee you're often in a position of vulnerability - your mentor is likely to be further advanced in their career, has a lot of professional contacts, and will be well respected. You might feel you won't be believed if you tell anyone about the issues. As a mentor, you may feel that others will think you've let down your mentee if the relationship isn't working, and it could impact on your professional standing.

I don't have a solution for this problem, but please feel free to leave comments and make suggestions of your own. Have you been in a bad mentoring relationship yourself? What would you suggest could help when problems arise? Do we need more involvement from professional mentoring scheme arrangers, maybe by creating compulsory review points during mentoring arrangements, when participants can step back from/leave the relationship, with no explanation needed? Should there be some professional penalty for abuse of mentoring schemes? Should there be a whistleblowing option for these schemes, so vulnerable participants can flag up the actions of the other participant, and trigger a review from the scheme arranger?

How can participants in mentoring relationships get out of them when they go wrong, and how can people who are acting inappropriately in a variety of ways in mentoring relationships be prevented from continuing to do damage?

Comments

Unknown said…
I realise this is of no help to people currently in a malfunctioning mentoring situation, but one of the first pieces of advice I was given about being a mentee is that when you first meet a prospective mentor you should always set an end date. Think of it as defined contract (which can be renewed if necessary) rather than a long-term commitment. Also, if things are going wrong, either party is totally entitled to say "thanks so much for everything, but I think we've both got as much out of this mentoring arrangement as we can". No grief, no recriminations, just a graceful exit.

However, if you do have a problem with a particular individual which is genuinely about their approach and not just a personality clash, and they're signed up as a mentor with a recognised scheme (e.g. CILIP Chartership), you should seriously consider making a discreet report to whoever runs the scheme to flag up whatever aspect of their behaviour is inappropriate. Otherwise the situation will keep happening, and that's a bad thing for everyone.

Popular posts from this blog

Careering along

When I look around at the activities of information professional groups, it seems that there’s a disparity. There’s quite often a lot of support and funding available for those who’re just starting out in the profession, but a desert of nothingness for those of us who’re “just getting on with it”. If you’re a new professional, you have lots of groups to support you as you progress in your early career, various prize funds available for essay and report writing, access to bursaries for conference attendance, eligibility for awards for being new and enthusiastic. But what do you get when you’re past that bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed first 5 years (5 years seems to be the approximate cut-off point for becoming “established” and no longer new). What happens when you’ve already received a bursary from an organisation earlier in your career and so wouldn’t be eligible for one now, meaning you’re not able to attend events or training? When you’re heavily involved in a project but not at

What if you don't get back what you put in?

I am, as you may know, a member of CILIP, the professional body for information professionals. There are two main reasons I'm a member. I am a Chartered librarian, and I take my commitment to maintaining this visible badge of my professionalism seriously. I have revalidated my Chartership within the previous assessment system, and I have submitted my Revalidation within the new system. To continue being a Chartered librarian, I must be a member of CILIP (although currently the commitment to continue to revalidate my Chartership is voluntary, and has been so for the length of my membership since approximately 2001). So I continue to be a member. I am a registered CILIP Mentor, and I help to guide those information professionals who are keen to be professionally qualified through the Chartership/professional qualifications process. I could not abandon midway through that process the people who are looking to me for guidance in their professional development. So I continue to be

Losing the professionalism

So, recently, CILIP apparently sent out an email regarding a consultation on a change of brand image, and name. I say apparently, as despite being a member, I never got this email. When I went to the website to log in and check why it wasn't sent to me, it didn't let me log in. I tried a password reset, and that email came through, so it *can* send emails to me...but the password it sent won't let me log in. I’m losing the will to keep trying. Overall, this is kind of symptomatic of how I feel about CILIP, and how useless its IT systems are.... Anyway, the consultation is on changing CILIP’s currently, clunky and meaningless name (picked as the best of a previous bad lot, as David McMenemy showed with this link to the 2000 consultation results ) to something more meaningful and relevant is open. If you want to take part, it’s here . I was a good girl, and pootled over yesterday to take part, and after filling in all the bumph, I got to view the glorious options. Oh. My.