an effort to be helpful, some mentors go too far. They offer
to do things we believe are unwise.
- Here are some examples along
with what we believe are preferable steps to take.
- Investing financially in
mentee's business or life pursuits
- Occasionally you may be invited
by your mentee to buy something, invest in his/her business,
pay his/her bills, or otherwise bring money into the relationship.
Doing so in a formal mentoring partnership changes the relationship
and causes a conflict of interest. In counseling this is called
a "dual relationship." No longer can you be neutral
and objective about the mentee's performance. He/She won't be
as open with you about problems, concerns, and mistakes for fear
you'll withdraw (or regret) your support. The mentee could even
become inappropriately dependent upon you, something to avoid
in all mentoring relationships.
Preferred response: I'm honored that you asked, AND I have
to say no. I'd like to keep our relationship strictly a mentoring
partnership at this time. Once our formal partnership has ended,
I'd be glad to entertain a discussion about options like that.
How about if we identify some other sources for you
- "Working" for your
- This is a cousin of Example
1. In this case, your mentee "hires" you (with or without
pay) to do an actual work task. Examples: write his/her resume,
complete a scholarship application, inventory Web-based degree
programs, interview his/her fellow employees about how the mentee
is performing on the job. In each of these situations, you're
doing the work the mentee should be doing (or paying someone
else to do).
Preferred response: I appreciate your faith in my ability
to do that task. However, this is a step I'd rather not take.
I prefer working behind the scenes with you and helping you
do this important task yourself. I'll be very glad to give
you feedback as you go along.
- Playing personal counselor
- This one can happen before you
even realize it, so discuss some boundaries when you're setting
up the partnership. Effective mentors don't limit their helping
to work-related issues. In fact, the best mentors help mentees
with their total life issues and challenges. Yet, they pay attention
to "the line." They resist giving critical personal
advice and counseling especially when the mentee is experiencing
big psychological challenges. These can include major marital
or family difficulties, drug or alcohol misuse, depression, and
other potentially complex and even life-threatening situations.
Preferred response: I'm glad you mentioned ____. I care very
much about you and want to support you as you deal with this.
As we discussed when we set up our relationship, we may run into
something I'm not an expert on. I believe this is one of those
situations. How about if we talk with ______ on this and come
up with a way you can get the assistance you need?
If you're in a work setting, by all means get advice from your
human resources or personnel experts anytime you believe your
mentee is heading into difficult areas. If you're on your own,
make an anonymous call to a local or national mental health hotline
or consult another expert for some guidance.
- When you're starting out as
a mentor, you won't always be clear about where to set your boundaries.
Whenever possible, check with your program coordinator or someone
else you trust to develop limits that are right for you.
- For more ideas on being an effective
mentor, see our Archive and Products.
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