6 signs that mentoring isn’t working – and what to do (Part 2)

6 signs that mentoring isn’t working - and what to do (Part 2)


This is the second part of a pair of posts about mentoring: the signs that it’s not working as it should and what to do. You can find Part 1 here, where I set out the first 3 signs.

4. Little or no progress

When mentoring works well, each meeting ends with the mentee committing to take action to progress towards their goal before the next meeting. What I hear from some disgruntled mentors is that their mentee makes little or no tangible progress between sessions, offering the same old excuses each time.

Steps to take: the wise mentor will hold the mentee to account and give them some clear feedback on what they’ve observed. This may be a good opportunity to remind the mentee of their initial commitment to the partnership. Mentors may use some coaching questions to enable the mentee to articulate what’s getting in their way – and how they can stay on track.

5. Arguments

It’s rare, but it can happen. Those unrealistic expectations may reappear, along with resentment that the mentor ‘doesn’t care about me’. The mentor may disagree with, or disapprove of, the mentee’s ideas and plans. This may start as a difference of opinion and escalate into an argument.

Steps to take: Avoid name-calling or blaming. Accept there is disagreement. Take time to reflect and try to the see the other’s point of view. Jointly identify options for getting back on track. Many formal mentoring schemes have procedures for mediating disagreement; if that is available, make good use of them.

6. Boundary breaks

I once heard a mentor describe their dismay when they came home from work to find their mentee sitting on the steps to the mentor’s house, waiting for them – a clear break of the agreed boundaries. On the other hand, I’ve heard of senior managers breaking the boundaries about appropriate behaviour with naïve new employees. Asking for favours, recommendations and introductions may break the boundaries of the mentoring process.

Steps to take: remind the mentee or mentor of the professional boundaries to be observed by both parties – and the consequences if they are persistently breached.


What questions do you have about mentoring, and how it can support your employees? If you want to discuss how mentoring can benefit your people, please get in touch to find out more.


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’


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