How to Be a Truly Terrible Mentor

By Ian GoverOctober 30, 2014

We’ve written plenty on this blog about the good mentors. We’ve told you about the art director who gave Twitter founder Biz Stone some valuable life lessons, the NFL quarterback who generously prepared his eventual replacement, and lots of other inspiring stories.

But what about the bad mentors?

After all, there are plenty of them out there. Mentoring can have wonderful benefits, but a bad mentor can reverse each one of them. Here’s our guide to being a truly terrible mentor.

Nothing projects lack of respect like ruining a person’s schedule

To be the worst possible mentor, start by disrespecting your protégé’s time. After all, she’s not as important as you. Always be sure to cancel meetings at the last minute, arrive late and leave early, or simply forget them altogether.

Better yet, why even bother to schedule meetings? Try being evasive when your protégé wants to spend time with you. That should get the message across loud and clear.

Did you say something?

Make sure that your protégé understands there’s only room for one “me” in mentor. If he offers an opinion, ignore it, or better yet, insult it. If he doubts the wisdom of your advice, tell him to follow it anyway. Tell him that it’s good enough for him, if it worked for you(even if it actually didn’t). Be firm, and don’t let your protégé get the idea that his ideas matter.

Everything you do is wrong

As we all know, the best way to learn is by making mistakes. To make sure your protégé learns twice as fast, be sure to call attention to every single mistake and hold a detailed, sarcastic post-mortem.

Try asking open-ended questions like, “Why in the world did you do that?” and “What were you thinking?” If the protégé struggles to explain her actions, throw up your hands and say, “Well, if you can’t explain it, I can’t help you.”

No explanations necessary

The good mentors often make the mistake of being too generous with their resources. As a bad mentor, you recognize the importance of withholding important information. After all, if your protégé knew about all the helpful resources that are out there, he might not be so dependent on you any more, and you’d need to find a new victim protégé.

So as I told your manager…

Good mentors keep conversations strictly confidential, but where’s the fun in that? With any luck, your protégé will reveal some juicy details about the things she struggles with or the difficulties she’s having with her boss. Pass the information on to that boss, to the guy at the water-cooler, or anyone else you speak to. If she complains, tell her not to be so sensitive.

Did you want to get something out of this?

Goals? Objectives? Sounds like a lot of work to me. Bad mentors are too smart to waste their time filling out documents. It may, on the other hand, be amusing to have your protégé go to the trouble of creating development goals, and then ignore them completely. Or commit to certain follow-ups and then, at the next meeting, say flippantly, “That doesn’t sound to me like a promise I would have made.”

But seriously…

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed our guide to being a bad mentor. But if by any chance you’re not convinced about the value of being a bad mentor and are still determined to be a good one, here are a few pointers:

  1. Listen before you speak.
  2. Be patient, and acknowledge what your protégé is saying.
  3. Find solutions with protégés based on problem-solving skills they can continue applying.
  4. Have a flexible attitude, and respect the choices your protégé makes.
  5. Be objective, and provide timely, constructive feedback.
  6. Be a safe harbor for venting, and a trustworthy confidant.
  7. Evaluate progress and adjust goals.
  8. Encourage your protégé to step outside the comfort zone.
  9. Meet regularly in person, and be available the rest of the time.
  10. Share your passion and have a passion for sharing.


Ian Gover

Ian Gover

Co-Founder at Everwise

About the Author

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