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When to Say Goodbye

When we find a knowledgeable, skilled mentor who's kind and who seems to enjoy us, why would we ever want to say goodbye?

It's tempting to hang on for a lifetime, and your mentor may even suggest an indefinite time period. Our research, however, shows that it's wise to end formal mentoring relationships. (You can negotiate another phase after that such as informal mentoring or friendship, if you both agree.) You may also want to end some informal mentoring relationships--or at least shift them to more collegial relationships.

Reasons to End Formal (and Even Some Informal) Mentoring Relationships

Here are four reasons it's good to end followed by four signs that it's time to make that move.

1. If you're in a mentoring program, your mentor is needed by other potential mentees.

A mentor can be effective one-on-one with only a limited number of mentees at a time. If he/she also manages a team, those individuals also want attention. It's thoughtful and generous to say goodbye and allow your mentor to either take a rest from formal mentoring or to link up with a new mentee. Your program coordinator will appreciate having your mentor back in the mentor pool.

2. You need other mentors.

As valuable as this mentor is, other mentors await. These individuals will have other skills and knowledge, different views of the world, and many new things to share with you. Since you can't juggle more than two or three mentors at any one time, it's necessary for you to wind down current relationships before you add more.

3. You need to perform on your own.

Even though you will never know everything your mentor knows (or do it as well), effective mentoring calls for at least a mental (if not physical) separation on your part. You need to prove to yourself that you're ready to excel on your own. Taking this step helps you move through an important phychological step of maturity.

4. You may need a rest.

Just as mentors need to rest, you too may need a breather from being mentored. Sometimes it's good to take a break, reflect on what you've gained, play awhile, and eventually gear up for your next development spurt.

Signs It's Time to Say Goodbye

Here are some of the signs that mentees watch for in order to know they should bring their mentoring relationships to a close.

1. You've met your goals and don't want to add new ones.

Sometimes you reach your goals with a mentor more quickly than you expected in the beginning. You can't think of a new goal to reach with this particular mentor. There's nothing wrong with ending your mentoring relationship early. Just be sure to mention the specifics of what you've learned, show appreciation, and ask to keep the door open for future contact.

2. You know what your mentor is likely to say or do when you present a question or issue.

This is a good sign that the relationship has run its course. You've learned what you need to learn from this mentor, or your mentor isn't providing what you need. Just be sure you're not resisting what you need to hear. Similar to number 1 above, it's okay to say how much you've enjoyed this experience and how its prepared you to get input from others.

3. Your negotiated timeframe or the program cycle is coming to an end.

The two of you agreed on a 10-or 12-month partnership, and that time has arrived. Or your mentoring program is ending a cycle and scheduling a final celebration. These are easy, expected times to end. Even if you don't feel completely ready, this is a good time to wind down the formal relationship. Remember, you can negotiate some other arrangement with this person for the coming months.

4. Your schedule and priorities have dramatically shifted.

You find it harder and harder to make time for your mentoring meetings and assignments. You're enjoying the relationship, but your job or other priorities have taken a dramatically different turn, and you don't want to slight your mentor. This is a good time to "put a bookmark" in the relationship, and perhaps leave the door open to resume when things calm down. Just the same, you should take steps to close this aspect of the partnership.

Saying goodbye to a valued mentor should be a little difficult. After all, you've shared an important part of you and your life with this person. However, saying goodbye to a formal relationship doesn't necessarily mean a final goodbye to the person. You can meet informally now and then, check in by phone, or send a note from time to time. In fact, you're likely to make your mentor's day if you do!

When to Say Goodbye
by Dr. Linda Phillips-Jones