How mentorship myths create mentorship failure

Mentorship provides individuals with the advice and information needed to navigate corporate and interpersonal structures. It creates the space to learn from individuals who have gone through the “ropes” themselves and made it to the other side.

Most critically though, mentorship is about networks and connections. Your mentor’s network is now yours. The spaces and events that you were dying to get into are suddenly now accessible. With a simple swipe or click, you can have access to people and companies that you have been trying to get meetings with for years. And, if used wisely, a mentor or sponsor can help accelerate your career progress, allowing you to jump ahead faster than if you were climbing the career ladder on your own.

Great sell, right? Well, mentorship has its flaws.

The idea of mentorship or sponsorship is great. It is often the application of it that leaves a foul taste in the mouths of so many. I have had some great mentors in my life. I have also had some terrible ones. I am confident that anyone that opens their heart, mind and schedule to becoming a mentor does so with the best intentions. But good intentions, busy schedules and unrealistic expectations create a wide opportunity for failure. However, it is not mentorship that is flawed; rather, our understanding of what it should look like is problematic.

Mentorship Myth #1: Mentorship needs to be face-to-face

Technology allows us to connect with each other using many different platforms and devices. Mentorship interactions should follow suit and become virtual. Gone are the days of arranging the perfect date, time and location that meets both parties’ schedules. We are now in the age of Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom meetings, to name a few. Mentors can now virtually connect with their mentees anytime that they are available, whether they are out of the country, working from home or squeezing in a chat between meetings.

Virtual meetings also widen the reach of who can potentially mentor. Mentors no longer need to be in the same city. Anyone can now access mentors globally, connecting to new individuals with new experiences, and new networks in exciting and creative ways.

Mentorship Myth #2: Mentorship relationships need to last for a long time

Can one meeting with the right person at the right time change your life? I am living proof that it can. A one-hour meeting with a mentor to “pick their brain” can be the difference between going into an interview hoping for the best and walking in confidently knowing exactly what to ask your future colleagues.

At some point, we started to believe that mentorship needed to last for six months to a year to have an impact. Though this method can work, it certainly is not the most ideal.

I am a big fan of coffee mentorship. This is the type of mentorship that happens in a short amount of time over your favourite hot or cold beverage. During these “coffee meet-ups,” as I like to call them, you can meet with anyone you are interested in connecting with, get a ton of valuable information and have no obligation to have another meeting with them again. Ideally, coffee meet-ups are productive and goal-oriented, leaving the mentee with critical information or a contact and the mentor feeling good about the impact they may have made on the mentee. Of course, you can remain in contact, keep having coffee meetings or even transition into a long-term mentorship if you choose. Organizations such as Ten Thousand Coffees and Nia Centre for the Arts have created online platforms to initiate these types of connections.

Mentorship Myth #3: Mentorship needs lateral industry or position matches

What could the CEO and the barista have in common? The senior VP of marketing and the junior IT administrator? So far, we have established that mentorship can happen anywhere and anytime, but it should also happen with anyone. Life wields great experiences and stories that anyone should be able to learn from no matter the title or years of experience.

Formal mentorship matches often have an established “senior” person mentoring an up-and-coming “junior” person. These distinctions are typically based on organizational hierarchy. However, there is much to be said about looking horizontally or even outside of your industry. The work-from-home mom can teach about time and money management. The artist can talk about creative problem-solving and tenacity. The youth entrepreneur can illustrate the power of online marketing and using social media to create influencers.

Mentors should not be typical; they should be inspiring, exceptional and generous with their time. With this as the model, mentorship can come from anyone and open up the world to more unique mentor matches.

Here are three quick tips to get you or a client started with mentorship:

  1. Find a person you admire or whose career track interests you, as opposed to someone in your industry.

  2. Ask them out for coffee. They may not have time to mentor you on an ongoing basis, but they might have some time for you to pick their brain.

  3. Find alternative ways to meet. If in-person doesn’t work, meet virtually.

  4. Find life and career lessons everywhere and in everyone.

Mentorship is the gift that keeps on giving. If done creatively, mentorship can impact careers, create new relationships and change lives.

~Originally posted on and reposted with permission.