Mentors are important. Studies have found that having a mentor makes you more likely to get a promotion and more likely to stay at your organization for at least five years. That’s a win/win for employee and employer. But not all mentors are good. Whether your mentor is a hired coach, business associate, or someone you were paired with by your employer, you need to make sure the relationship is valuable or it’s a waste of time.
“You don’t want a mentor whose heart is not in it,” says Ivan Misner, PhD, author of Who’s in Your Room? The Secret to Creating Your Best Life, and founder of the global networking organization BNI. “And a mentor isn’t a rent-a-friend. This relationship shouldn’t be chit chat; it’s about getting to the place in life where you want to be.”
Misner suggests looking for these four red flags that the relationship isn’t a good one:
1. They don’t have a success record
You want a mentor who has been there, done that, and if they don’t have a success track record–especially if you’ve hired a coach to be your mentor–the relationship might not be valuable.
“You have to do due diligence,” says Misner. “You want someone who has been successful and has the background to show it. Sometimes people fall into the coaching business. You don’t want someone instead of doing it because they thought coaching would be fun.”
2. They don’t have a clear mentoring system
A mentor should have a process in place that takes you from one step to the next. If you are paying someone, Misner suggest asking what is their process before you hire them. If the arrangement is more informal, get a sense of what they have in mind for the relationship. You don’t want someone who is going to wing it.
3. They aren’t holding you accountable
If you aren’t doing the things that your mentor tells you or instructs you to do, the relationship is a waste of time. Your mentor should hold you accountable for following through on actions.
Misner shares a story about one of his colleagues who agreed to mentor a woman but with one stipulation: “He told her, ‘I’ll work with you but the first time you don’t do the things you promise me you’ll do, we’ll end our coaching situation,'” he says. “A good mentor will have a similar agreement. They don’t want to waste time they could pour into someone else.”
4. They don’t walk their own talk
If you notice that the mentor isn’t doing some of the things they suggest that you do, it’s time to end the relationship, says Misner.
“It’s like saying, ‘Here, take my advice; I’m not using it,'” he says. “You’ve got to find someone who’s walking talk. And ask for references to be sure.”
Getting out of a bad mentoring relationship
If a mentoring relationship isn’t good and the mentor is a coach, you can simply fire them. If you’ve been paired with someone at your workplace, it can be a little trickier.
“As the mentee, it’s important to have a conversation with your direct supervisor about your concerns,” says Misner. “You can say, ‘I appreciate being connected with this person, but I’m not sure if their heart is in it. If possible, I’d like to be connected with somebody else.’ If the mentor is giving bad advice, be direct about that.”
Another way to approach it is to address it directly with your mentor, especially if they seem disinterested in the arrangement.
“I’ve found that if you open a door for someone, they’ll often walk out on their own,” says Misner. “The mentee can say to the mentor, ‘Are you finding our time together valuable? I know this is a big commitment and I know you have a busy schedule. If this is not the right timing for you, it’s okay to step back and we can reconnect at a later date.'”
This allows the person to save face, and they’ll often walk out the door on their own, says Misner. “When you’ve parted ways in a friendly manner, you can find someone else to connect with,” he says.
Having a mentor is incredibly important, so if an arrangement doesn’t work out, try again, says Misner. “If we don’t learn from other people mistakes, we’re destined to make them ourselves,” he says. “Having someone to coach and guide you is powerful, whether it’s having a mentor or simply asking for advice or opinions. Successful people get there by standing on the shoulders of others willing to pay that forward and help.”