When Mentoring Goes Bad


Having a mentor has always been viewed as something great; it means having someone there to help guide you on your way to upper management, and it comes with greater visibility within the company, getting exciting assignments and potentially receiving big promotions. However, according to The Wall Street Journal article “When Mentoring Goes Bad”, there are also many ways in which the relationship between a mentor and a protégé can go very wrong. Corporate mentoring is on the rise and, in fact, 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs to their employees and even many successful corporations like Daimler Trucks, McGraw-Hill, Deutsche Bank, and Sun Microsystems have leveraged mentoring to improve employee onboarding, leadership development, and other initiatives.

People tend to get very close to their mentors, and thus rely on them as both teachers and guides in order to learn about their business. However, if there is a bad relationship between the mentor and the protégé, it is much less likely that the protégé will learn everything they need to know about the business and will have to fend for themselves. This would result in the protégé thinking only about what would be in their best interest, not about what would be in the best interests for the company, resulting in an agency problem.

An agency problem occurs when there is a conflict of interest between those who own the firm (principles) and those who manage the firm (agents). In this case, mentors who are not properly training and guiding their protégés, are creating a group of future managers who care more about their own personal interests than they do about the interests of the firm, meaning that the agents of today’s firms are training a group of new agents who are even more self-interested than ever.

Some of the most common ways for this kind of a relationship to go bad include a protégé being neglected by their mentor, a mentor being highly intimidating or manipulative, and sometimes even a protégé who relies too much on their mentor. Regardless of why there may be problems in a mentor/protégé relationship, any problem between a mentor and a protégé could potentially lead to a conflict of interest, which in turn could lead to an agency problem within the organization. Luckily, there are many ways to make these kinds of problems less likely to occur in these relationships. For instance, before the mentoring begins, both parties need to understand what they want to get out of this relationship and what will be required to make the collaboration worthwhile. Both parties should either commit wholeheartedly or opt out.

Kira Kiviat


Chandler, Dawn E., Lillian Eby, and Stacey E. McManus. “When Mentoring Goes Bad.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 24 May 2010. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703699204575016920463719744?mod=WSJ_mgmt_promo_left&mg=reno64-wsj&gt;.

“Five Benefits of a Workplace Mentoring Program.” Chronus. N.p., 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <http://chronus.com/resources/five-benefits-of-a-workplace-mentoring-program&gt;.

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