Breaking up with your mentor may be the key to success

Those seeking to break into an industry often receive this seemingly simple piece of advice as the one way to ensure success:

"Find a mentor."

The power of mentorship has become pervasive, taking on an almost mythical status.

Mentorship mentor
Assembly | Getty Images

There is indeed much to learn from the counsel of someone who has worked for many years in a field where you hope to distinguish yourself. However, as knowledgeable as a teacher can be, no one is omnipotent. Advice that worked in the past may have little value today as the world of business continues to evolve and the economy faces new challenges from unexpected sources.

Here are five reasons why the time may have come for you to break up with your mentor.

1. Mentorship needs time to develop. Do you have it?

The demands of many corporate positions extend beyond 9 to 5 hours. Those who can meet them while executing quality work have the best chance of advancement. If that is your goal, time management is an absolute must. Even seasoned professionals have difficulties balancing dedication to their job and maintaining personal health and growth.

Your mentor may have sage advice on how to accomplish this, but do you have the time to explain every situation to them?

There are no set rules about how often to interact, but you must develop and cultivate a mentorship like any relationship. It is rare for a problem to evolve from a single situation or individual: many people and circumstances often play a role. You are aware of all these variables, but it can be difficult to fully convey them to coworkers you see five days a week, let alone a mentor you might only touch base with every two weeks.

If you are unable to devote the time necessary to develop a close relationship with your mentor, they will offer advice based only on what they know of the situation. In many cases, however well-intentioned the guidance may be, it can fall short and be a negative influence on the sort of planning and action the decision requires.

2. Technology evolves. Does your mentor?

Technology plays an increasingly important role in all of our lives, both on and off the job. There is an ongoing quest to increase efficiency and productivity and these goals often rely on technological advances to succeed.

It is the responsibility of everyone whose work involves these new programs to stay current on how to best use them. Adopting one system over another can be a major decision that carries considerable responsibility. If your mentor is not current on a given technology and shows no interest in upgrading their knowledge, they will not be able to offer the advice you need. In this case, you would be better off consulting well-informed co-workers about the best course of action.

3. Is your mentor more selfless or selfish?

Many mentor relationships begin with the purest of goals: a seasoned pro eager to pass along their knowledge to a promising young candidate. Most relationships continue along those lines, but some devolve because the mentor's intentions are not entirely selfless. Do they have an ulterior motive that taints the quality of the advice they are offering? If you ever detect this is the case, you will gain nothing positive from this association.

Also remember that however high and mighty your mentor may seem, they are also human and thus capable of falling prey to the same failings. When the one you look to for guidance and wisdom is basing their answers on obvious biases such as jealousy or narrow-mindedness, it is time to walk away.

4. How well does your mentor listen?

Mentors dispense guidance based on their experience in similar roles and situations. However, the mentee is not the only one who must take the time to listen. Advice is only useful when crafted to suit a situation. It is rare for a problem to arise that follows the exact parameters of those before it, making it necessary to craft individual solutions.

If your mentor offers the same advice to you in different situations or insists that the way they proceeded in the past is the only route to consider, this is limiting and unhelpful.

5. Has your mentor let you fail? They should.

Of all the reasons, this may be the most crucial.

The corporate world can seem unrelenting to someone just entering this environment. Even those who excel at time management and designating tasks can feel overwhelmed. Whether you are juggling accounts, planning meetings, or wondering how your department can meet its targets this quarter, it can be very tempting to rely on the advice of others to relieve the pressure.

This can be helpful for a while, but to truly establish yourself in a position it is vital to demonstrate critical judgment. If you spend too much time relying on the advice of a mentor to solve problems, you run the risk of never failing. Failure is one of the most reviled words in the corporate world, but it is also one of the most valuable ways to become better at your job. As Pixar chairman John Lasseter stated, "a good part of my leadership skills is crafted from learning from experiences early in my career that were not positive experiences." Doing the wrong thing leads to contemplation and improved planning, while always doing the right thing breeds complacency and stagnant thinking.

Ask your mentor for advice, but also learn to think for yourself and take the sort of risks that will encourage growth. If you always rely on the advice of others, you run the risk of finding yourself branded a mouthpiece concerned only with maintaining the status quo or, even worse, your job. The ones who truly succeed are not afraid of taking risks to expand their horizons, while the timid and easily swayed fall by the wayside.

Learn what you can from sources that have the background you require, but consider other opinions. Always remember that you are the master of your own destiny.

By Debby Carreau, CEO & founder of Calgary, Alberta-based Inspired HR and a member of the CNBC-YPO Chief Executive Network.

@Debby Carreau

About YPO

CNBC and YPO (Young Presidents' Organization) have formed an exclusive editorial partnership consisting of regional "Chief Executive Networks" in the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. These Chief Executives Networks are made up of a sample of YPO's global network of 23,000 top executives from 120 countries who are on the front lines of the economy and run companies that collectively generate $6 trillion in annual revenues.