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Career Stagnant? Consider Divorcing your Mentor

Mentors serve an important role for individuals as they progress through their organization.  They provide insights and wisdom and help people navigate through difficult situations. They can shine the light on new ways to solve problems and connect people to new contacts.  They can play an invaluable role in the development of up and coming employees. Mentors are a good thing.

But there will be a time when individuals will outgrow their mentors.

A high performing employee who takes the advice of their mentor and starts to implement their ideas and develops their own leadership philosophy will, at some point, outrun their mentor. The mentor’s ideas will become stale and you will start hearing the same advice for different issues.  At this point in the relationship, mentors will flatten out in their growth, and will no longer be as helpful as they were in the beginning of the relationship.

How to Know When You’ve Outgrown Your Mentor

I have seen people who were mentors too long actually have a significant negative drain on employees.  Perhaps they reached the top of their growth curve and are now on their way down, or maybe they are just not as influential as before.  Either way, the dialogue becomes less and less about mentoring. They reflect back on issues that are not helpful and forget their role as a mentor.

When you start to see these things happen, that’s when you know you have outgrown your mentor.  You are ready to find new leaders to guide you, and new ways to grow. You can keep the old relationship active, but understand it is something different now. You should show appreciation for their support of you, keep them up to speed on your progress, but understand clearly: they are not providing that leadership for you anymore.  It’s time to move on and find new ways to grow.

I have seen many examples where this worked very well and times when people stayed with their mentors too long and began to be labeled the same as their mentor.

When you Need to Build a Team of Advisors

Unless the mentor is very special, after time, their advice will get stale and will no longer be helpful.  In a worse case situation, the employee takes everything the mentor tells them as absolute fact without any objectivity, and they become stagnant, not providing any new ideas or energy.  

I remember one high potential employee who was always complaining about the feedback from their mentor and how it was not helpful, and frankly just the opposite, it became distracting.  I told her to leave him and find a new mentor.  She was shocked at first but later came and told me that she realized that was exactly what she needed to do.

The worse cases I have seen? When employees end up working for their mentor and lose all objectivity. They begin to believe that it’s just a matter of time before they ascend to the top of the organization.  

That rarely happens.  

When that leader moves on, the organization usually wants a fresh set of eyes, new thoughts, and a different energy to lead the team.  The employee who was waiting in the wings gets left behind, because they are just a fresh coat of paint on the same old leadership style.

How To Build a Team of Advisors

The best way to build a team of advisors is to simply start adding new mentors to your list.  

Start with a coffee or lunch and say you are working on a problem and could use some help.  I have never seen anyone turn down an employee who is hungry for help and guidance. Explain what you are working on and the choices you have in front of you and ask if you missed anything.  Take note: do not ask them to solve your problem. That’s very bad form. Just ask them if you missed anything. Chances are you have and they will give you some advice. At the end of the lunch or coffee ask if you can follow back up later and see what they think.  Of course they will. 

You now have a new mentor in development.  My advice is to do this with more than one person and presto! You have your own team of advisors.

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