When Mentoring Goes Wrong

By Rev. Tim Yee

February 18, 2017

Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.

1 Samuel 18:8-9


A person stressed over work.In two recent devotions I wrote about the importance of positive mentoring relationships. Leaders should regularly ask themselves, “Who has significantly impacted me for the good because of his/her influence in my life? Who do I need now to help me grow in this next phase of leadership?”

In this post, I want to consider an equally important aspect of mentoring: the negative influence that can occur from mentors who fail us.

When young David achieves the miraculous victory of defeating Goliath, King Saul has the opportunity to take David under his wing and to help shape the character and abilities of this young leader. Instead, Saul becomes jealous and spends years not only undermining David but actually trying to kill him! Though this might be an extreme example of mentoring going wrong, it suffices to say that each of us has had some kind of disappointment with someone who has mentored us.

In its simplest form, mentoring is supposed to be a process in which a mentor with more experience and knowledge helps a mentee with less experience and knowledge. But sometimes a mentoring relationship fails to meet this basic expectation and can become a scarring experience altogether, affecting your leadership for years to come. Perhaps a supervisor takes credit for your hard work instead of acknowledging your contribution to the project. Have you ever experienced a coach or teacher who berated you for a shortcoming instead of helping you grow and overcome an obstacle? These negative mentoring experiences can make leaders shy to seek out mentors and hesitant to mentor others toward growth.

I can fortunately say that I’ve had far more positive mentoring relationships than negative ones. But I’ve realized not to underestimate how much impact the negative experiences can have on leaders – including myself – whether in a formal or less-formal mentoring situation. The power of mentoring is that it can radically shape a leader for the better. But a bad mentoring experience can create unhealthy patterns of thinking that can limit a leader’s effectiveness and overall health. The key is to identify these unhealthy patterns, address them, and create a path towards healing and growth. We’ll talk about that in the next devotion.


In your life have you received more positive mentoring than negative? Can you think of a negative mentoring experience that has shaped your leadership?

What tools helped you move beyond the negative experience? Are there any negative patterns you’ve learned that you might be inadvertently passing on to others?


Lord, thank you for the positive mentors who have impacted my life. I also recognize that some past negative experiences may continue to affect my leadership today. Help me be the kind of leader who mentors others toward growth and wholeness. Place mentors in my life that shape me into the leader you are calling me to be. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentaryDavid’s rise to power (1 Samuel 17-30)

Rev. Tim Yee

Contributor Emeritus & Pastor

Rev. Tim Yee is Pastor of Union Church of Los Angeles, a 100-year-old church in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo District where he serves a diverse church of professionals, internment camp survivors, artists and homeless. He serves on the Board of Union Rescue Mission where he leads the P...

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