Misguided Guidance: 12 Mistakes Mentors Should Avoid


1. Unsolicited Advice

Mentoring is a two-way relationship. It’s great to give advice, but this should primarily be responsive to specific interests and challenges the protégé has put forward. Try to stick to areas for growth the protégé has expressed an interest in developing.

2. Being Too Harsh

There will be times when you need to say something that’s tough to hear. But too much criticism can damage the relationship, making your protégé less likely to open up in the future. It’s important for mentorship to be a balanced and often (if not quite always) enjoyable experience with some insulation from the pressures of work.

3. Being Impatient

You may sometimes feel that you know exactly what to do from similar experiences, so it can be frustrating to see your protégé take so long to find the right solution. Good mentors are patient, letting their protégés find solutions with guidance instead of blunt instructions, no matter how long it takes.

4. Trying To Make Them Into You

Mentoring is about developing protégés’ talents, not making them into carbon copies of their mentors. As we’ve seen in our Famous Protégés series, success often follows a very different path from their mentor’s. It’s vital to respect and cultivate people’s individuality.

5. Lack Of Preparation

Mentoring is a commitment – you need to set aside time to meet and also to prepare, and afterwards to reflect and make notes. A common mistake is to show up for meetings in a rush without knowing your protégés’ priorities or remembering last discussions, which compromises your effectiveness.

6. Narrow Focus on Problems

Protégés often come to their mentors looking for help with specific problems, and it can be easy to overlook causes and the broader lessons of an experience. Sometimes particular situations reflect a greater problem and tendency the protégé can be overlooking. Encourage your protégé to look at the bigger picture and identify where their problem falls in the scheme of things.

7. Hiding Your Missteps

Mentors act both as role models and as guides, and in some cases those come into conflict. Trying to be a perfect role model can inhibit your ability to be a good guide. Sharing experiences and failures in an honest and vulnerable manner can be more benefitial to your protégé than you may realize. Openness, even about mistakes, ultimately makes you a better role model as well.

8. Assumptions

Mentors and protégés are often at very different stages in their careers. A big mistake mentors often make is forgetting how much  protégés have yet to learn. Don’t assume that they already know something, even if it seems obvious to you.

9. Mentoring the Wrong Person

Think carefully before committing to mentor someone, and make sure you can see yourself working with that person for a while, perhaps even years. If it’s not going to work, try to help them find someone more suitable.

10. Dependency

A common mistake is to let the relationship between mentor and protégé become too deferential. Mentors are usually more experienced and senior. Make sure to leave room for protégés to make decisions, and encourage them to develop and trust their own judgment.

11. Telling Too Many Stories

Sometimes a good personal anecdote is the perfect way to make a point. Your protégé wants to learn from your experiences, after all. But don’t start telling too many stories that are more indulgent of yourself than helpful to the protégé. Remember, this relationship is a two-way street, not a lecture hall.

12. Trying to Eliminate Every Mistake

If you can help your a protégé avoid serious, career-damaging mistakes, it’s a great service. But remember that mentoring is about developing the protégé’s capabilities for self reliance over the long term, versus optimizing short-term activities. We all know that making a mistake can be a great way to learn. So save them from the hurricanes, but let them experience a few of the smaller storms.


Andrew Blackman is a British-born award-winning writer. Blackman’s articles, essays and short stories have been published in a wide variety of newspapers, journals and collections, including The Wall Street Journal, Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Post Road and others. He has been a guest speaker at the London School of Economics and other universities, and has appeared on BBC radio.