Remember those old episodes of Scooby Doo where the villain would be unmasked at the end?

The sweet old grandma was really a dirty rotten scoundrel. Ghosts were actually people and dirty rotten scoundrels. Monsters were actually people and dirty rotten scoundrels. All unmasked by Scooby and the gang before they could do any permanent harm.

Wouldn’t you love to have that same unmasking power when selecting and working with mentors?

I’ve had some fantastic mentors in my career. They’ve helped me get to the next level, heck the next five levels. I’m thankful to all past, present and future mentors for their insights and encouragement.

Sadly, I’ve also had a couple mentors who were really just wearing masks. The problem was that I couldn’t see the masks for a long time. My business, my vision, and even my self-confidence paid the price.

Read on for the cliff notes version of my lessons learned – Scooby snacks sold separately.

Scooby Doo’s Rules for Mentor Success

This post is part of the July Word Carnival. The topic is Business School of Hard Knocks: Real-life Cautionary Tales. Click the link to get a variety of perspectives from an amazing group of small business experts.

Mentor Rule #1 – Understanding Motivation

Shaggy’s Alternate Title: Like hey man, what’s with the helpful dude on the lonely road?

People offer or agree to become mentors for a variety of reasons, some are self-less while others are self-serving. Most fall somewhere in the middle.

A bit of I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine is fine. For example, if someone offers to mentor you for free in exchange for an honest testimonial on their coaching skills, why not? You gain a mentor, and they gain social proof.

There are countless ways you can (whether expected or not) show your appreciation to your mentor. Even something as simple as saying thank you will mean more than you may realize.

Beware the motivations that are toxic. Like the so-called helpful stranger on the road directing you to the creepy mansion on a dark and stormy night. Mentors that simply want to use you to showcase their success and expertise. Mentors that ask for something and infer you owe them. Mentors that are using the relationship to sell you a bunch of stuff. I’m sure you can add a few more here from your own experience.

Before agreeing to a mentor / mentee relationship ask about your mentor’s expectations. Listen carefully, both to the words and the sub-text. If your instincts start raising red flags, PAY ATTENTION. I wish I had.

Mentor Rule #2 – Masks Crack Under Pressure

Shaggy’s Alternate Title: Zoinks! The bad guy was masquerading as a sweet old lady.

This is one I’ve learned the hard way. Things seem fine until pressure is applied, then the mask cracks revealing the true person behind it. Since we’re all canine human, it’s important to make a distinction between honest misunderstandings and actions taken with deliberate intent.

Attacks on Your Professionalism
First give the feedback objective review. Better yet ask a few other trusted colleagues for their honest reaction. It took awhile for me to realize my “mentor” was simply responding poorly to my success. Short term it cost me dearly.

Attacks on Your Abilities
Does your mentor keep telling you that you’re not ready? That you have LOTS of work to do before you could even consider being ready? Do (s)he fail to provide concrete steps to get ready, or list so many we’ll be on Web 4.0 before you finish?

A mentor’s job is to help you grow, not hold you back. Feedback and suggestions should empower you, not make you more dependent.

Misplaced Disappointment
Comments can include, “I thought better of you.” or “I’m disappointed you didn’t support my position.” I find this one particularly painful. Aren’t we all hardwired to want people to like us?

Were your actions in keeping with your values? If so be sure to communicate those reasons to your mentor. However you need to consider what their motives are – see Rule #1.

Mentor Rule #3 – Make a Graceful Exit

Shaggy’s Alternate Title: Like how do we get out of this?

As tempting as it may be to tell your mentor what you think of them, don’t do it. A gracious exit leaves bridges intact, and demonstrates an appreciation for their time and effort. Acting out of anger or spite is never good business.

Here are a few ways to make it happen. Be sure to thank them for their time.

  • Indicate that you feel that you’ve outgrown the need for a mentor, or that this relationship has peaked. No one expects to be a mentor forever.
  • Point out how your business has blossomed, and that you need to focus on execution.
  • Allow the formal calls or meetings to fall off your calendar naturally over time.

Final Thoughts

Keep your faith in humanity. This will be hard after you feel betrayed by the very person who was supposed to be helping you succeed. I know, I’ve been there. But if you shut down you’ll miss out on a world of wonderful people who CAN and WILL help you.

Did Scooby and Shaggy miss any crucial mentor rules? Sound off below.