5 mistakes you're making as a mentor

Bad mentorships offer no value to their participants

When you take another employee under your wing in the workplace, you make a commitment to helping them become better versions of themselves—and since retaining top talent will ultimately benefit your organization, it's in your best interest to be the best mentor you can be. 

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Anthony Tjan, CEO, managing partner, and founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, explains what distinguishes a good mentor from a pointless one. Here are five mistakes you're making:

1. You're putting yourself first

The essence of mentorship is helping others. The best mentors help their mentees "feel like fuller versions of themselves," writes Tjan.

Your first priority as a mentor is to develop new leaders, not to build yourself a fan club.

2. You're not taking the time to get to know your mentee

It's easy for mentors to fall into a "check the box" attitude with mentorship, Tjan writes. But he argues it's crucial to establish an authentic, "intercollegial" relationship with your mentee.

Tjan cites research by Belle Rose Ragins, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which found that without a baseline relationship, there is no actual benefit to a mentorship at all. 

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3. You're only teaching your mentee the "hard skills"

Mentorship is not the same as skills training. While showing your mentee how to do something technical is certainly helpful, this is not the point of a mentor-mentee relationship.

The best mentors "shape other people's character, values, self-awareness, empathy, and capacity for respect," writes Tjan. Soft skills are just as important as technical skills, after all.

4. You're shooting down your mentee's ambitions

Mentees may see their mentor as a safe audience for their more unconventional ideas. In these moments, your first reaction may be "to help them think more realistically," Tjan writes. But over time, this can wear down your mentee's enthusiasm and initiative.

Instead, try your best to find a way your mentee's idea could work, urges Tjan. "Mentors need to be givers of energy, not takers of it."

5. You're putting your organization before your mentee

It's natural to want to keep superstar employees at your organization. But the best mentors serve as trusted "anchors and guides" for their mentees and encourage their mentees to explore their passions and "calling" in life, Tjan argues (Tjan, Harvard Business Review, 2/27).

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