“It sounds like that was your first mistake: your mentor should never be your boss,” says psychologist Joan Harvey as I began to explain my tale of mentorship gone wrong. “You should be able to bounce off issues with a work mentor – sometimes these might have something to do with your boss. You can’t be open and honest [if your boss is your mentor] because where does the superior/subordinate relationship end and the mentor and mentee relationship begin?” she adds.
Before I entered the world of work, I had a Hollywood-movie sense of what a mentor was and the importance they should have in your life. On screen these relationships mirrored attributes of familial relationships and friendships, so subconsciously that was the expectation I had. In hindsight those were pretty big boots to fill, especially as I never formerly asked her to be my mentor –they don’t in the movies, so it never even crossed my mind.
“This isn’t totally unusual,” says Dr Ché Rosebert, director for external relations for the Association of Clinical Psychologists UK. “If you don’t work at a company where a mentorship scheme is in place or you meet someone outside of the world of work who you admire and want to learn from, you may fall into a mentor/mentee relationship without ever officially discussing the expectations of both parties. This lack of a formal agreement is often why a mentorship can fail.”
My mentor and I had no formal agreement and never talked about the mentorship aspect of our relationship. “For all you know she may never have thought of herself as a mentor, but rather a supportive boss with a developmental management style,” says Harvey.