How To Break Up With Your Mentor

A mentoring relationship should be mutually beneficial. Here’s how to figure out if you need to end it.

How To Break Up With Your Mentor
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Breakups are hard. They can be unpleasant and awkward, which is why some of us stay in relationships longer than we should. The same can be said for mentoring relationships.


Caroline O’Hara recently explored this topic for Harvard Business Review, and spoke with Professor Kathy Kram, management professor at Boston University and co-author of Strategic Relationships at Work: Creating Your Circle of Mentors, Sponsors, and Peers for Success in Business and Life to find out how to break up with your mentor. Here’s what they suggest:

Evaluate if you’re getting what you need from the relationship.

“Ask yourself what value you’ve gained from your mentor, what guidance and support you feel you aren’t getting, and what you want going forward,” O’Hara says. Perhaps your goals have changed along the way and your mentor no longer suits your needs, she says. Or maybe you don’t click as well as you’d like.

By taking into account what you’ve learned, the deficiencies, and your mentor’s area of expertise, O’Hara says, you can better identify what you’re looking for and what areas you need to build.

Decide whether to give it another try.

Before throwing in the towel, you might want to give it one more shot with your mentor, O’Hara says. Did you state your expectations up front? Have you asked for guidance in a particular area and not received the response you were looking for?


“People don’t realize they need to educate their mentors, too,” Kram says. Clarify what you’re looking to get from the relationship, ask for advice, and be clear about what kind of feedback you seek, O’Hara says.

Rip the Band-Aid off.

If you decide to pull the trigger on the relationship, do it quickly, O’Hara suggests. There are several ways to do it depending on the formality of the relationship, from a note or phone call to an in-person meeting. Bottom line: If you don’t feel like the relationship is beneficial to you, don’t waste your time or theirs, O’Hara says.

Be gracious.

Regardless of your feelings about the relationship and what you’re taking away from it, remember that your mentor offered their time and expertise to help you. “Gratitude is the key to leaving gracefully,” Kram notes.

She suggests emphasizing the positive–telling your mentor what you learned from her and how it will benefit your career in the future, rather than focusing on her perceived shortcomings.

Avoid burning bridges.

The world is getting smaller, and you never know when your path might cross again with that of your mentor. Keep in touch and offer your help if you can be of assistance to her in the future, O’Hara suggests. “You never know when you’re going to encounter this person again, whether as a boss, a subordinate, or a peer,” Kram says.

Hat tip: Harvard Business Review


About the author

Lindsay LaVine is a Chicago-based business and lifestyle freelance writer who's worked for NBC and CNN. Her work has appeared online in,,, NBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo, Business Insider, and Fox Business.