Be Trustworthy and Responsible
This principle is rooted in the ethical notion of fidelity, or “behaving in a trustworthy manner and keeping one’s promise or word” (Strom-Gottfried, 2008, p. 21).
Trust is a cornerstone of effective mentorships (Sipe, 1996).
This involves being aware of your obligation to maintain consistency. Meeting frequency and duration should always be consistent. Plan and notify your mentee of any changes in advance.
Let’s look at the example below involving Liam and his mentor Claire.
Liam, a 24-year-old aspiring writer, had recently been matched with a mentor named Claire, a successful author who had agreed to help him with his writing goals. They had been meeting once a week at a local coffee shop, and Liam had been enjoying the opportunity to learn from Claire and receive feedback on his work.
One week, Liam received a message from Claire confirming their usual meeting time, but he didn’t reply as he was caught up in his work. On the day of their meeting, Liam arrived at the coffee shop only to find that Claire wasn’t there. He waited for a while, hoping that she would show up, but after half an hour, he decided to leave.
Later that day, Liam received an apologetic message from Claire explaining that she had forgotten to cancel their meeting due to a family emergency. She expressed her regret for the inconvenience and promised to make it up to him by extending their next meeting or providing additional feedback on his writing.
Liam felt disappointed that he had missed out on their weekly meeting and was frustrated that he hadn’t received a heads-up from Claire beforehand. However, he appreciated her apology and willingness to make things right. He replied to Claire, thanking her for her message and expressing his understanding of the situation.
The following week, Claire made up for her missed meeting by providing Liam with detailed feedback on his latest writing project and offering him some valuable insights on the publishing industry. Liam was grateful for her guidance and felt re-energized to continue pursuing his writing goals. Despite the hiccup in their schedule, Liam felt confident that he had found a mentor who truly cared about his success.
Terminating the Relationship
Sadly as many as half of the volunteer mentorships end prematurely. Most end at the volunteer’s request (Rhodes, 2002). While some premature endings are unavoidable (e.g., the mentor is abruptly relocated for work.), the mentee should receive an explanation and appropriate notice before the relationship terminates. All too often, mentorships come to a close unexpectedly. The mentor quits the program and fails to notify the mentee or the program.
Early termination poses a potential for harm. It can negatively affect a mentee’s ability to function. Mentors must be mindful of changes in the relationship. Last-minute changes or cancellations can be crushing to a mentee. Even minor disappointments can accumulate in ways that erode trust and closeness.
Dealing With Disappointments
Mentees aren’t the only ones that face frustrations in mentorships. When imagined rewards are not realized or take a different form, mentors may decide that the relationship is not what they had bargained for and end the match. They may feel shame at their perceived failures and choose to avoid the situation rather than honestly confront it.
Volunteers frequently experience success and mastery in their professional or academic lives. In contrast, the lives of vulnerable young adults are often chaotic. Volunteers may experience a sense of helplessness or despair when confronted with that chaos (Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996). Instead of reaching out for help, they may choose to avoid or withdraw from the program. They may think their mentee does not need them. They may use excuses like lack of time. They may even suggest the young adult would be better off with a different mentor.
As a mentor, you should be mindful of the familiar and predictable challenges in a mentorship. When minor issues arise, you should reach out for assistance. Do not allow them to develop into something bigger.
Steps to Terminating a Mentorship
Start Ending at the Beginning
Set the expectation from the start. Let the mentee and their family know when the relationship will end. Doing this introduces termination as a normal part of mentoring. It prevents mentees from expecting a forever relationship.
Plan the When and How
Create clear expectations of when the relationship will end. Set a specific date if possible. Let the mentee and their family know how the relationship will close. Will there be a celebration event? If so, tell the family in the beginning so they have something to look forward to.
Check in Regularly
Frequent contact with your mentee is a part of mentoring. However, you should check in with their family regularly too. Find out how they are doing, and make sure the mentorship is on the right track. Remind them of what to expect in the next stage of the relationship. If the relationship is nearing the end, plan the transition with everyone involved.
Plan Closure Activities
If your program has a set procedure, explain it to the family. If not, plan a special outing or event to close the relationship. If the relationship is goal-based, celebrate the achievement of the goal. In any case, plan something to signify the end of the relationship formally.
Conduct an Exit Interview
An exit interview provides you with valuable feedback. It provides the family time to tell you how they feel. Ask them what they liked best about the relationship. Make sure you ask them what they would do differently, too. You can use that feedback to guide your next mentorship. It also provides a clear end to the relationship.
Set Clear Guidelines for Post-Program Contact
Who should the family contact if they need help in the future? A promise to “keep in touch” is often unintentionally broken. Instead, set clear guidelines for whom the family should contact in the future.