Transitioning the Mentoring Relationship

Learn when to renew or end your partnership.

Larry Ambrose

In most formal mentoring programs, the mentoring relationship is created for some minimum period of time. However, when that time has expired, the mentoring relationship doesn't have to end. Even if your relationship was formed without the aid of a formal program, there comes a time when the partnership reaches a turning point. For some, the mentoring relationship simply fades out, while others limp along, both partners reluctant to explicitly end or reshape an ineffective relationship. Such change may mean that the relationship is ending-or should end. Or it may mean that it can continue, but in a different context. Following are tips to identify when your relationship should change direction or end as well as tips to help you handle the transition.

Recognize the signs.

Part of your role as a mentor is to recognize the signs that indicate your relationship may be reaching a transitional point. For example, is your protege contacting you less often? Exhibiting less openness in communications? Expressing less appreciation for your input? Subtly indicating that he or she can get help for a growing number of issues elsewhere? If so, these signs may indicate your relationship is ready for a change.

As a mentor, not only must you be aware of the signs, you must take responsibility for confronting the transition issue. Do not approach the issue with defensiveness; understand that the needs of your protege may have changed. Let your protege know what you are noticing and indicate a nonjudgmental desire to deal with differences in the relationship.

Assess your relationship.

The best way for you and your protege to end, renew, or revive your mentoring relationship is to do it consciously, intentionally, and openly to ensure that both of you experience fairness. First, you and your protege should assess your individual experiences in the relationship. Second, meet to share those assessments and give each other feedback on how the relationship has progressed and whether it has met your expectations as well as your protege's.

Ask your protege to share current mentoring needs. For example, is your protege interested in developing technical, organizational, leadership, or managerial skills? Does he or she wish to take part in a peer mentoring or a cross-cultural mentoring relationship? You and your protege should jointly decide how to meet new needs. One option is to continue the relationship, but with a different focus. Your protege may be unaware that you have skills and knowledge that are relevant to the new direction that individual is headed. However, if your protege's needs are no longer ones you can meet, you'll need to refer that person to others who can help.

End the partnership.

Your assessment of the relationship may result in a decision to end the partnership. Letting go is rarely comfortable, but it is necessary if your protege is to flourish and continue to grow without you. Whether your protege is moving on to a new mentor or is ready to go it alone, you need to give the relationship some closure. To do this, plan a celebration to mark the occasion. The celebration does not have to be elaborate; just meeting for coffee or lunch is appropriate. This last meeting is a good time to share stories and reflect on the relationship. Reflection allows you to examine what you both learned and accomplished during the mentoring process. The final meeting is also a chance for your protege to express appreciation for your guidance and for you to wish your protege well in his or her future endeavors.

Finally, it is appropriate to remain in touch with your protege once the relationship is over; however, resist the temptation to follow up with the individual right away. Your protege needs time to establish independence. In the mean time, document your own mentoring experience so you have a reference for your next mentoring relationship.

Larry Ambrose is a managing partner at Perrone-Ambrose Associates, Inc., an organizational development consulting firm that helps organizations create mentoring cultures.

Perrone-Ambrose Associates, Inc.
2 N. Riverside Plaza, Ste. 1433
Chicago, IL 60606
(800) 648-0543

From Healthcare Executive, January/February 2002