All good things must come to an end. Whenever I think about the topic of how to end a mentoring relationship, I relive a critical moment from my personal life. A few years ago, my husband and I considered whether or not our son could and should continue with hippotherapy.
Hippotherapy: Using horses to build strength
Hippotherapy allowed our son, who has cerebral palsy, to ride a horse with the assistance of therapists so that he could work on gaining core strength and head control while also feeling the vestibular motion of the horse’s gait as if he were the one able to walk. It was a fantastic form of therapy for our son for four years, and he absolutely loved it, but we had come to a point where we had to weigh his safety with the benefits of hippotherapy.
Since our son can’t sit up on his own, he needed to ride a pony (and no, that is not a baby horse) so that the horse was not too tall. The therapist and a volunteer assistant helped hold him on the horse while a guide walked the horse through the arena. It was tough work on the bodies of those people holding up our son. And as he grew, it became even harder.
Our son was 9 years old at the time and was getting tall. That made it harder for him to safely ride the horse since the people on the ground holding him up were starting to have a harder time reaching him in such a way as to provide the optimal support that he needed for his head, neck, and trunk. While we didn’t want to stop our son from participating in hippotherapy, the time had come for us to say goodbye to it.
Saying goodbye to something you love includes mentoring relationships
It’s hard saying goodbye to something you love, enjoy, and have benefited from. I know many mentees and mentors feel this same way about ending their mentoring relationships. But just as with my son outgrowing hippotherapy, the chances are high that one day, your mentoring relationship will have run its course.
Do you know what to do when faced with this situation?
It might seem strange to think about how to end a relationship, but it is a very important step to consider. You’ve put time and effort into finding a mentor, setting goals, meeting with your partner, and working on your personal and professional development.
When ending the relationship, you don’t want to lose focus and let your hard work crumble. That’s why I recommend you consider when, why, and how you want to close your mentoring relationship.
How Long Should a Mentoring Relationship Last?
There are two parts to navigating the end of a mentoring relationship. One is, of course, the action of saying goodbye. But even before that happens, you’ll need to understand how long that relationship should last.
There are several key questions that impact the length of a mentoring relationship:
- Is the mentoring relationship part of a structured program? If so, it’s likely that the relationship already has a clear end date. If a mentee wants to call it quits before the official cycle is over, that’s a whole different discussion that needs to happen. Mentors and mentees in structured, cycle-based programs usually don’t want to end the mentoring relationship mid-cycle unless something is amiss.
- Is the mentoring relationship ad-hoc? If so, the relationship can end at pretty much any time. Ad-hoc mentoring is common in open mentoring programs. It’s important that the mentor get a heads up that the relationship needs to end, and why it’s ending, but ad-hoc relationships can be as short or as long as the mentee needs them to be.
- Is there a mentoring agreement in place that defines ending terms? Every good mentoring relationship, regardless of the structure (or lack thereof) should have a mentoring agreement. That agreement will help put the right guardrails around the relationship and should, ideally, spell out under what terms or timeline the relationship will end.
Taking those three points into consideration, the best answer here is: It depends. If you’re in or running a structured mentoring program, that relationship should have a clear end date. Mentees can plan for that end date well in advance, and it won’t take either mentor or mentee by surprise. 3-, 6-, and 12-month cycles are common for structured mentoring programs, but we’ve certainly seen longer. Some structured mentoring engagements last for 2 years or more.
Trying to pinpoint an ideal mentoring relationship length is tricker with ad-hoc mentoring. That’s why mentoring agreements are very important for those types of relationships. Establishing that timeline at the start will help maintain proper expectations and keep all parties focused on the goal. If you don’t feel like the relationship is ready to end at the designated end time, you can always update the agreement to add more time.
When Should You End Your Mentoring Relationship?
As we noted just above, some mentoring programs have a preset end date assigned to them, such as a high-potential program that runs on a 12-month cycle. When the end of the year comes up, it’s time to end the relationship. That can make it easier on participants since they know a defined end-point is coming.
But what if you don’t have a designated end date in mind? Then the choice is yours as to when you end the relationship, and it is something you should discuss with your mentor so that you agree on the end date. Some ideas:
- Set an end date when you first start your relationship. You can always extend this date if the relationship is generating quality ideas and support that you need. But with an end date established right from the get-go, you and your mentor both know what to expect, how much time you are committing to the relationship, and how much time you have in order to accomplish your goals. This may help you stay focused on your goals since you have a finite amount of time together.
- Are you already in a relationship? No problem! Look at where you are in your relationship at this point and assess your progress toward meeting your development goals. With that in mind, suggest a timeframe to your mentor for how much longer you want the relationship to last to help you meet your expressed goals. This might be just the kick in the pants that you need to help you cross the finish line.
Why Should You End Your Mentoring Relationship?
No one wants to say goodbye to a good thing, but sometimes it’s better to leave on a high note and when you still have a good relationship with your mentoring partner, rather than draining it dry to the point of atrophy, resentment or dysfunction.
Mentoring relationships can require emotional and mental energy, so it is a good idea to take a break every so often to recharge your batteries. This can give both you and your mentor time to assess your progress and celebrate the accomplishments you’ve made. And just because you take a break from one mentor does not mean you have to take a break from mentoring. You can (and dare I say should?) have more than one mentor and can absolutely say goodbye to one mentor while still engaging with another!
See if any of these sound familiar:
- Our conversations have become a little flat and predictable.
- I feel like I’ve met my development goals.
- We end up talking about things unrelated to mentoring when we meet.
- We haven’t met in several weeks or even months.
- My development needs have changed since this relationship started.
- I’m not sure my mentor is committed to this relationship.
- I’m not sure I’m committed to this relationship.
- My priorities have shifted, and I can’t give this relationship what I should.
These (and many more!) are flashing neon signs that it’s time to say goodbye to your mentoring relationship. Keep in mind that just because you may be ending the relationship at this point doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t have a relationship with this mentor again in the future. And for those in more formal programs where there is an assigned end date, keep in mind that you and your mentor can continue a less formal ongoing mentoring relationship if you are both open to it and still see value in connecting.
How to End a Mentoring Relationship
When ending a mentoring relationship, you want to be as polite and amicable as possible, which means no ghosting! Ending a positive and fruitful relationship can seem easier than having to end a relationship because it’s not working out. Awkward, right? The best thing to strive for is honesty.
Tell your mentor that your goals have shifted, or that your priorities have changed, or that the two of you just don’t seem to be a good fit. Whatever the reason, be forthright with your mentor and give them the chance to weigh in with their opinion and observations. You might be surprised to find out they were thinking the same thing!
If you’ve come to an agreed upon end date and are ready to close your relationship, you can follow this easy 3-step plan:
1. Evaluate your progress
Think about the goals you’ve set and the progress you’ve made. Ask your mentor to do the same so that you can have a conversation about this. Did you meet your development goals that you established at the beginning of the relationship?
2. Get Feedback
Meet with your mentor and compare notes. Does the mentor’s feedback align with your own self-evaluation of the progress you made? What surprised you? What did you expect to hear?
3. Plan next steps
Based on the conversation you and your mentor have, decide if it’s time to end the relationship. Did you meet your goals and feel confident in closing out this relationship? Do you need to adjust the goals given the feedback you received? Can this mentor help you with any new or revised goals? Are they willing to keep mentoring you at this point? Do you want them to?
Come to an agreement with your mentor on the status of your relationship and move forward from there.
It can be hard to think about saying goodbye to a good mentor and a positive mentoring relationship, but it can be detrimental to push the relationship beyond its natural stopping point. Circumstances change, and just because it’s time to say goodbye to your mentor at this point doesn’t mean that you have to say goodbye forever. By knowing when to say goodbye, you make it easier for the mentor to say yes again at a later date.
Also read: Expressing Gratitude in Mentoring
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