is it bad to take mentorship from someone who can be awful to others?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m in a new role at a company (three weeks) and have struck up a great professional relationship with a VP who was recently hired to clean up that department. Her area expertise and experience is fascinating and she has welcomed the chance to mentor and teach me. We have been getting along well so far.

However, I’m simultaneously finding out through the grapevine that she can get extremely angry at her team and sometime slams things around in her office. I’ve also heard that she has shouted at her administrative assistant (who has been with the company for over a decade) and accused her in one instance of being unethical. This admin has been well spoken of throughout the department and, while I only know one side of this story, it make me feel kind of sad and perhaps a little gross to be on such good terms with her and to frankly like her so much while she may be so unfair to an admin who can’t really stand up for herself (HR is involved but I’m not sure to what extent).

I’d welcome any thoughts on this. I’m just struggling with knowing that she’s not as nice to others as she is to me.

{ 167 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    I’d be hesitant to take her on as a mentor. If she’s known for being a hothead and is generally not liked by the majority of the department, being associated with her might be detrimental (or you might pick up some of her not great habits).

    1. Competent Commenter*

      Agreed—this isn’t someone you want to be closely associated with.

      And it’s only going to get more ethically and emotionally uncomfortable for you over time if her abusive behavior towards others continues or worsens. I’ve been in a similar dynamic, not with a mentor but with a faculty member (I’m staff) or a supervisor who treats me much better than my coworkers. It’s happening currently in my professional life. And it feels crummy. I try to use my more protected status to advocate for others as much as I can, but I don’t have the power to fix everything I see.

      Having been on the other side, where I’m being treated worse than my coworkers, I can say it feels terrible. You wonder, “Why me? What’s wrong with me that I’m getting treated this way?” and it’s easy for coworkers to gaslight you and reinforce that message because they don’t see the behavior or don’t feel it’s repercussions. It adds another layer of misery.

      Lastly, you may find yourself being the next target.

      You’ve only been there three weeks. It doesn’t sound like you have to interact with this person (they’re not your supervisor?). I’d slow things down with the VP. After all, you’re new and you’re going to be busy. If you were chatting daily, maybe lengthen that to every other day, then weekly, and taper off. Be careful how you do it—she may turn on you if you don’t play her game. Been there, too!

    2. wheeeee*

      This is what I came here to say. Also, if she is abusive, it is only a matter of time before that abuse is directed at you.

      1. It's mce*

        Agreed. Had toxic boss that was fun outside of the office, and those who did not work directly for her, but scared away people who did.

      2. paxfelis*

        Even if she never behaves abusively toward you, you’re going to always be on edge, waiting for it. That doesn’t sound like something you’d want. I know I wouldn’t want it.

    3. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      I don’t see that having a mentor is all that visible, to the point that association with her is going to make OP look bad. Is it a couple meetings a week? Lunch or coffee every now and then? Unless one of them is absolutely gushing about the other, or OP is actively defending the VP to people who complain, I don’t really think the optics should be much of a concern.

      1. Smithy*

        I think where the OP is at a real disadvantage in assessing the risk is by being at the workplace for only three weeks. Where I used to work, there was lots of bad management and also lots of favoritism or perceived favoritism. The end result would be that someone such as myself on the unpleasant side of the experience would perceive someone who was being mentored/favorited as someone I wouldn’t trust while working there and would be highly unlikely to network with post job.

        Right now the OP just doesn’t have as much information to assess if this mentorship will be alienating from other coworkers. Also by being new there’s not a chance to determine whether previous favorites have then later found themselves in the dog house (and also alienated from other colleagues).

    4. Lumen*

      This. Honestly, letting someone mentor you when they become verbally violent and physically out of control (slamming things around their office) sort of sends them the message that this is all fine and good.

      You also don’t know when her good will for you will run out and she’ll turn her bad behavior on you. You don’t know if her behavior will start to seem normal to you and you’ll start treating other people this way without even realizing it’s happening.

      This is a pretty big red flag. This isn’t just that people think she’s a jerk; HR is already involved. You don’t have to confront her, and I don’t think you’re necessarily in a position to do so, but distance yourself. Don’t hitch your wagon to someone who may very well be disgraced in the near future.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        All this; and doubly so, since you’re new. If you had been there awhile and had a better long-term sense of how she operates, you’d be better positioned to make a more informed decision about your level of involvement with her. Right now, you have such limited information, I’d be a little more measured in how involved you become with her. I wouldn’t pull back in a noticeable way, but I wouldn’t get in any further with her for the time being.

      2. Snarl Trolley*

        Exactly this. It sucks to say, OP, but you’ll be implicitly condoning toxic behavior by treating everything like it’s okay simply because (for now) the abuse isn’t directed at you. You don’t work in a vaccuum. You’re part of a network of people in this workplace; your decisions are going to reflect on you as not just a worker, but as a person with principles, and given this VP’s behavior, I’d be very leery of letting people assume those principles line up with this potential mentor’s. Even if just for future teamwork/business relations/networking reasons, moral code aside.

    5. Mbarr*

      This. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to learn from her, but make sure you aren’t being associated as her friend. Keep your distance and make sure it’s a professional relationship only.

    6. n*


      I was in a similar situation where I accepted someone’s mentorship without knowing their reputation first. I eventually learned that they were known for being argumentative, pushy, and stubborn and were not well-liked by others in the department. I had to do a LOT of work to show that I was *not* like my mentor. Eventually, I was able to forge other positive professional relationships, but that took a couple of years to undo that initial guilt by association. [Academic context, FWIW]

  2. SMine*

    I wouldn’t do it. She’s probably on her best behavior with you, being that you are new. Screw up a couple times (as we ALL do) and she’ll treat you the same as everyone else. Been there, done that. It’s best to keep a professional distance with those types of “leaders”

    1. CM*


      The way you’re seeing her behave toward others is a predictor of how she’ll behave toward you once the novelty wears off. You won’t even have to screw up to make it happen — it’ll just evolve naturally once you start to feel familiar to her.

      I’ve been in this situation before, and it’s always tempting to feel like maybe you’re being treated differently because you’re special and cool and awesome and great, or you just understand this person better than everyone else, or you’re on the same wavelength, or you’re better at managing her reactions or something, but, if you wait long enough, it ALWAYS turns out that the abusive behavior comes your way, too. Every time.

  3. 42*

    OP – have you witnessed any hint of this behavior yourself? Something that may have subtly pinged your radar or that you couldn’t quite put your finger on? Behavior toward yourself, or directed toward others?

    1. Legal Beagle*

      Good questions! I would wait and see. Don’t rush to cultivate an intense mentoring relationship, but keep things professional and friendly while you get more exposure to her and the office. Watch for red flags and trust your instincts.

      If she is truly so bad, I’d be worried that she would turn on me eventually, and that my reputation with peers would be damaged by being her mentee. However, could all be unfounded rumors or anger over justified but unpopular decisions. You just don’t have enough data of your own to make that judgment yet.

      1. Chalupa Batman*

        I agree. It’s ok to be cautiously optimistic at this point if OP’s experience has been positive so far. You don’t have to commit to formal mentoring yet-take advantage of her experience and leadership and pay attention to red flags, but reserve judgement for now. “Shouting” and “slamming things” could be a pretty wide descriptor of behavior, especially when everyone involved is a bit of an unknown quantity to the OP. It would be a shame to write off a potentially beneficial relationship only to find out later that “shouting” for this particular person equals I Don’t Like Her Tone.

        1. Liz*

          Totally agree. If the VP has been hired to clean up the department, it’s likely that people in that department know that and are feeling on edge. From that perspective, critical feedback can feel or sound mean or harsh, even if it is delivered in an even tone, because it’s hard to hear. The same can be said about any behavior described here — e.g., if she accidentally pulled the door closed too hard, suddenly the grapevine is buzzing about how she was enraged and violently threw her door shut after having a frustrating meeting.

          I would reserve judgment unless OP directly observes the behavior themselves. If they do, having a positive relationship with that person (especially given that the VP has offered to be a mentor) would enable OP to ask what the heck is going on, if they really wanted to know or understand the behavior in context.

  4. Mike C.*

    You’ve only been there three weeks, there’s no way you have enough information to make a judgement about what’s going on with the admin.

    1. Doug Judy*

      Three weeks in also seems way too fast to form a mentor relationship as well. For now I would just focus on learning the job/company. There’s plenty of time for mentorship stuff later after OP has more information.

  5. Zip Silver*

    If she was specifically hired to clean up the department, and has snapped at her team (as well as telling a 10 year admin that she’s been unethical), it honestly sounds like she’s planning to clean house and hasn’t gotten the ok from HR yet. I wouldn’t worry about being friendly with her, OP.

    1. Psyche*

      Yeah, without specifics about what the allegation actually is it is impossible to say if the admin is being unfairly targeted. I’m assuming that she didn’t just say that the admin is an unethical person and had specific accusations. My guess would be that something the admin did was viewed by the VP as unethical and by the admin as perfectly fine. It may very well be growing pains since the department needs to make significant changes to the way things have been and doesn’t like it. Or it could be that the VP is on a power trip. Be polite to everyone without getting enmeshed with either side and wait to see how it pans out.

    2. MuseumChick*

      I got the same feeling. The OP just doesn’t have enough information to really know what is going on. It could be VP is awful to her staff. Or, it could be that she is getting frustrated with her staff for legitimate reasons and is gearing up to clean the place up.

      1. BF50*

        Yes, but even if her staff is unethical and needs to be purged, she still shouldn’t be yelling and slamming things. It makes it more understandable, but not acceptable. Of course, even that information came through the grapevine, so it could be exaggerated.

        Either way, my advice would be the same. Step back and cool off the mentoring relationship until you know how the chips are going to land.

        It is not your place to determine who is at fault in the situation. Even after it is resolved, you don’t really need to know the details, but for political work reasons, I wouldn’t want to be closely associated with her right now.

        Hopefully you can resume the mentoring relationship after the drama calms down, if you still want to do that.

  6. Reinhardt*

    My $.02 would be that mentorship isn’t an all-or-nothing arrangement, and it’s not a one-way street. You can take on board the things you like about her, and ignore the ones you don’t. As for her bad habits, going out of your way to be kind to others in her presence and expressing shock if you ever see her be cruel to someone may help curb those behaviors.

    1. Myrin*

      I co-sign all of this and would add that it’s probably good to keep your eyes and ears peeled for information in either direction so that you can judge based on more than the grapevine and three weeks of experience.

    2. Liet-Kinda*

      This is a fair point. You can learn from her and solicit her career and field advice while also not being her padawan or sweeping the floors at her dojo, feel me?

    3. designbot*

      +1. Mentorship is just that, not a personal cosigning of everything she’s ever said to anyone. Take what you can, leave the rest.

      1. Anne Elliot*

        Agreed. In the immortal words of Dave Barry, “A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.” (For “waiter,” substitute “admin”.) But not everyone in this world is a nice person, and that doesn’t mean you need to forego a connection that may help you grow in your career and in your company. So I also vote for fostering a strictly professional mentor/mentee relationship that does not cross the line into close friendship. Keeping it strictly professional is key, because the very worst outcome, IMO, would be for the rest of the staff and your colleagues to conclude you’ve become her Flying Monkey and then despising you by extension. So if you don’t feel you can maintain strict professional boundaries (either because you’re not sure how, or because you doubt she will allow that), then I would pass on the mentoring opportunity.

          1. J*

            I would say that if a waiter is incompetent you still ….I dunno, shouldn’t be rude to them? You can politely express displeasure and advocate for your needs without being a jerk to another person.

        1. Jojo*

          Actually, it depends on what happened to the manager she replaced. Was previous manager. Fired or did they quit for a new job? If he quit play calm to all sides. Tell others to give new manager time to adjust. If old manager was fired you are in a hot spot. But new Manger is always vilfied at first no matter what. Plus, generally corporate. Does not give new manager a good view situation. New man usually comes in and gives corporate speach of straighten up or you all fired. All hands now pissed because of speach. And new manager just fine. Have seen it twice.

    4. Clever Alias*

      Think of it this way – it’s also an opportunity to learn how NOT to be a leader. Also important.

      1. Anonnynon Today*

        That’s what I came to say – if you keep this professional and you think they can add some value, then go for it. You’re not getting married. I have had more than one mentor like that who were unfortunately only kind in the beginning because I was stroking their ego, but it wasn’t the end of the world and I did still learn (and learned how people like that operate, for that matter), and when the relationship lost its value for me I stopped spending time with them. Sometimes observing behavior you don’t want to emulate and understanding why it’s not good behavior is a good thing, too.

  7. Loopy*

    I agree there are some major red flags but three weeks is pretty early to be making a hard and fast judgement call based on the grapevine. I’d maybe be cautious about how close you get with this VP until you can make a judgement call based on either your own observations or a longer period of time.

    So basically, maybe just be sure you don’t get too close too fast since there are some warning signs. Maybe even start thinking about a way to gracefully distance yourself (professionally and subtly) if the rumors turn out to be true- this person may easily turn that behavior on you.

  8. Squeeble*

    Just proceed with caution. Keep your eyes and ears open to everything–there’s no reason to stop building your relationship with her yet, but you have some decent intel at this point that you can use to create your own judgment of her.

    1. MLB*

      This. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with continuing the relationship you’ve developed with her, but like LW said, you’re only hearing one side of it. This one side may be originated in truth, but as I’ve often learned, it’s widely exaggerated. Just keep your radar on with this person.

  9. AliasGrace*

    My colleague Sansa had a cruel manager in our department as her mentor. Sansa told me specifically that she didn’t care about how the manager treated me or other coworkers, because the manager was helping her. To Sansa, it wasn’t an ethical issue — what was important was what she got from the relationship.

    There are two potential downsides, though, even if you don’t care about how your coworkers are treated:

    1) It made several of us lose respect for Sansa, because of the favouritism she got while the rest of us were treated terribly; we were less likely to volunteer to work with her or help her out when we weren’t required to

    2) It gave Sansa a pretty warped view of the department, because she heard everything filtered through the cruel manager; Sansa started describing other colleagues as “useless” or “incapable” because she trusted her mentor’s opinion of them

    So I think cozying up to the cruel manager can make it harder to form relationships with colleagues at your own level.

    1. kshoosh*

      I’ll second this– it could very well change how you’re viewed by others. In undergrad I worked closely with an instructor who was a decent teacher but by all accounts a horrible, arrogant, entitled person. He was the only one who taught my very-specialized skill (organ performance, thank you very much lol) but I was heavily judged by strangers and colleagues alike for my association with him. It made some essential things quite difficult, like arranging practice time in a church when he just finished screaming at the church secretary calling her all kinds of names, and my credentials were “the student of this awful person”. More importantly, though, a surprising number of people assumed I was *just like him*, and treated me like it.

      1. Kendra*

        Organ performance is awesome! I’m not particularly good, but I did take a couple organ classes and I play for my church. It’s such a cool instrument :)

    2. JB*

      LOL, yep. Is this one of those industries where everybody knows everybody? Because Sansa seems to have forgotten that she might have to rely on her co-workers at some point in the future.

    3. Smithy*

      I second this but also add that if the Cruel Mentor is know to turn on people – you can also risk not just alienating your other colleagues, but can also end up more alone if you end up out in the cold.

      It’s a calculation to make where you are aiming for the support from one person due to their seniority, expertise, connections – but potentially burning or cooling bridges with peers. Personally I’ve known peers who’ve received job insights/leads from former bosses or other higher ups. But I have benefitted more from building a broader peer network.

      Ethics aside – as a calculation I don’t think that one will definitely blow up in your face and the other will definitely help you for years to come. But be aware of the risks.

  10. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

    I think it would be fine to pick her brain about her area expertise and experience so long as that is the extent of it, not far enough to be considered a “mentorship.” A mentorship/closer relationship could lead to the gross feeling that OP mentions. Since it’s still so early I think there is probably room for learning from her without going so far as an ongoing relationship.

    1. Logan*

      I was thinking the same – although whether or not it is called a ‘mentorship’ is irrelevant for me (if it makes the manager happy then why not call it that), but it might be useful to have specific boundaries. If the discussions are about how to manage employees then I’d be tempted to walk away, but if it is about previous experience unrelated to people-managing then I would be more likely to discuss this with her, although I’d also make it clear to anyone who asks that I am specifically only discussing those topics (and if I were in the LW’s position I’d almost be tempted to proactively mention to colleagues who mention her that I’m are getting advice from her about topic X, so that I wouldn’t get a bad reputation based on proximity to hers, especially since the LW is new).

      If she is there to ‘fix’ a particular group, then that could become a really difficult dynamic, as anyone with that role tends to be viewed negatively, and there could be larger issues at play which would make it bad to be linked to her, especially given that the LW doesn’t have an established relationship with colleagues.

      1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

        I’m not sure that I wholeheartedly agree about bringing it up proactively, though it probably depends on the nature of the conversation and who is involved in it. I’m also not sure that I understand if OP is in the same department that the VP was brought in to clean up.

        But yes, it seems like with the info given, previous experience unrelated to people-managing should be easy enough to learn from her without getting into the messier bits.

    2. Erin W*

      Yes buuuuuuuuut she may only be willing to act as helper and mentor to someone who acts as an adoring appendage. Pick-and-choosing the parts of the relationship OP wants may not be an option.

      1. Jojo*

        More likely. New manager is picking this woman because she is also new and is not yet involved with local politics, or not yet in sync with old employees so as yet has no loyaltyes to others there.

    3. Blue*

      Yeah, I think OP would be smart to proceed with caution for now and see if this kind of professional relationship is feasible (and something that she would still be open to, after she learns more about this person). I had some success with this strategy in a previous position. People in our office were aware that I had a good working relationship with our unpleasant, high-ranking coworker and that she was less likely to snap at me, so they’d use me as a go-between on work issues. But they didn’t lump me in with her because I was careful to maintain a professional distance by limiting our interactions and declining to engage with her on non-work topics. Depending on the person and the office, OP may be able to find this line between taking advantage of this person’s expertise and maintaining distance.

  11. Catleesi*

    I would suggest carefully distancing yourself from her. While she may have been nice to you thus far, it is possible (likely) that at some point she could direct that anger at you. You’ve only known her a few weeks, and that isn’t really enough time to gauge how your relationship could develop and how this person will treat you in the future. Additionally, it sounds like she may be getting a bad reputation in the office so associating yourself with someone who shouts at her staff and slams things around in her office may reflect poorly on you. However, since she is still a person with a level of authority and you work in the same place I would say to do this carefully. Luckily since it’s been such a short amount of time hopefully that won’t be too difficult.

  12. Technical_Kitty*

    If she was brought in to “clean up the department” then the VP would probably be looking for unethical behaviour, if it HR is involved then I would stop worrying about that. And if a department needs cleaning up, seniority obviously isn’t something in someones favour. I could be mistaken in how I am reading this though.

    The anger with her team may stem from the “cleaning up” as well, but there’s not enough info. It may be that they aren’t getting along because the VP has been brought into sort them out? Or the VP is a jerk, can’t tell from the letter. There is no reason to yell at people, that is not okay.

    So, yeah. Take into account the new VP’s role and how that may impact their interactions with their department, but problematic behaviour is pretty universal. Anger is fine, aggression is not, actively yelling at subordinates is not okay (an exclamation versus yelling I mean).

    1. Psyche*

      I was wondering the same thing. Since she was brought in specifically to clean up the department, the problem may be with the longstanding team members. Then again, it may not. It is really impossible to say at this point. I would say proceed with caution. Don’t burn bridges but don’t be too friendly until you know more and can actually make a judgement call.

    2. It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's SuperAnon*

      This is a great point. Anecdotally, there was an issue with a team in my area and the manager said he “was not being supported” and “made to be the bad guy” by a VP, which of course makes the VP look like a jerk. Pull back a few layers though, and you see he was a huge part of the problem, despite being a popular manager. He was not sharing crucial information like deadlines and customer expectations with the team, drove a wedge between other managers, and generally feeding into the toxicity that was bringing the team down. Of course, the VP may have been a jerk as well, but having one side of the story won’t give you a full picture.

      1. Emily Kimberly*

        +1 Staff may not know everything that is going on behind the scenes, or may only get the perspective of an employee who is part of the problem. Since there isn’t much to go on, I agree with Psyche.

    3. Anon From Here*

      Yeah, someone who’s been brought in to clean up is not going to be terribly popular with the staff. I’d take everything I’ve heard with a grain of salt, at this point, and seriously reserve judgment until I’ve been there for quite a while longer, like months longer.

    4. all the candycorn*

      Yes, if you are brought in to “clean up” a department, it means there are a lot of people there who, for various reasons, aren’t doing their jobs. And you know what happens when those people get caught? They blame others!
      I had an employee scream at me that I was “disrespecting” her when I asked her why she was 20 minutes late for a shift, program participants were standing around waiting for her to get started.

      I would recommend not getting super close to *anyone* until you know them well, though, just because at work if you make a bad friend, it can come back to bite you later. Stay neutral until you get the lay of the land.

    5. Ender Wiggin*

      When someone is brought in specifically to clean up a department that’s a pretty good sign that there are a lot of useless / unethical / toxic people in that department. Id be more willing to give the new manager the benefit of the doubt than to give it to the employees who are so bad at their job that someone has to be brought in to clean up after them!

      OP form your own opinions about people based on what you see. Take gossip as a data point but remember gossip is very rarely completely true.

    6. Genny*

      This is also unfortunately an area where women tend to be judged more harshly than men. It’s certainly possible VP is a jerk, but it’s also possible that she’s being unfairly labeled a jerk for doing things no one would blink an eye at if a man was doing it. I’d take everything you hear with a grain of salt until you know more about everyone involved. In the mean time, I don’t think there’s harm in continuing this relationship, just be aware that everyone’s biased.

    7. Jojo*

      If she was brought in by corporate as a fixer there will be more and much more unpleasant scenes in the next couple of months as she sorts the people out. Does sound like previous manageras fired or forced to retire. This means if new manager is pissing people off then she is just doing what she was hired to do.

  13. Cordoba*

    You can learn as much from a bad example as you can from a good example, and if you wait for a perfect mentor you’ll be waiting a long time.

    I’d definitely take her on as a mentor, with the expectation that this mentoring will include a bunch of useful domain-specific knowledge as well as a crash course in how *not* to treat people. Or maybe I’d be surprised and find out that she’s on right track after all. Either way, good to know.

    I wouldn’t want to be thought of as “her person” to the extent that any bad feelings people have about her are automatically transferred to me, but other than that wouldn’t hesitate to learn as much as I can from her.

  14. LadyByTheLake*

    I would take the “she’s a horrible person” with a grain of salt, particularly if she was specifically hired to clean house. I agree with Reinhardt’s advice a 1000%

  15. CatCat*

    If she is as bad as all that, my experience with this type of person is that inevitably, your time in the sunshine of their good graces will come to an end.

    At the same time, you only have the grapevine to rely on here and it’s only been 3 weeks. I have some questions about the reliability of the rumor mill here. The VP was hired to clean up a department and the employees there may not be taking it well. I have found some people can interpret someone being firm with them as being “shouted” or “yelled” at when it’s nothing of the kind.

    So I think you should proceed, but be attentive to observing her behavior. That’s about it at this early time.

    1. anonymoushiker*

      Yeah, agreed. One of our departments, while they are nice people have gotten into the mentality that leadership is WRONG and BAD and MEAN. Which, the leadership have their failings, but the team is also defensive, isolating themselves, and unwilling to assume best intentions as well as willfully assuming no one cares about the good work they do etc. The way they talk about it can make it sound worse than it is or like people are mean and terrible, so I’d be cautious on assuming veracity until you see it in action.

    2. Knitting Cat Lady*

      I’ve had a boss yell ‘Don’t shout at me!!!’ at me.

      My crime? She was talking over me and I asked her to let me finish my sentence. In a normal tone of voice.

      Considering she’s there to clean up the department, and HR is involved? I’d take everything you hear through the grape vine with a big helping of salt.

      Grapevines have the tendency to distort things.

  16. asdfasdf*

    I would take some time to make up my own mind. You are taking what was said to you without a grain of salt, whether it’s true or not you cannot tell yet. Most companies are dysfunctional enough that the perceptions of the employees on their bosses aren’t clear.

    Give it a few months, keep your eyes open more than your ears and come to your own conclusion.

  17. Shepherd Dragon*

    OP here! Thanks for the comments so far, they are really helpful. @42, I’d say my instincts about her went into overdrive when I first met her, as she was so saccharine-sweet that I cringed and felt a bit as though I was a mouse and she was the cat (admittedly I love cats, but you know what I mean). I don’t think about what it would say about me to my colleagues if I’m too close to her, that’s important to think about.

    Also, I report directly to her boss, so I think she knows it’s important to be nice to me right now.

    1. Competent Commenter*

      Listen to your instincts! And definitely be careful what you say to her. If she’s going to provide mentorship, try not to give her too much info. Instead of, “I struggled with the llama reports this month because Hannah didn’t give me the data in time, how do you handle things like that?” make it “What advice can you give me about doing the best job I can on llama reports? I want to get off on the right foot and I’ve found them complex.” Listen more than speak. Most people love that anyway. :)

    2. gecko*

      If you have a bad instinct like that, then trust that instinct. That is a very clear and powerful signal. You can definitely like her, but remember that first instinct, and hold way off on going all-in on her side.

      On the selfish side–if you continue to form a mentorship relationship with her, it’s likely that the friendliness won’t last. Your reputation may suffer as her suffers. And, more than that, I don’t think you want to pick up management tips from someone who shouts at her employees, even if she was hired to “clean up the department.”

      On the altruistic side, I think it’s often just the wrong move to partner up with jerks. I think by and large we shouldn’t ignore it when someone is a jerk to other people in their lives; ignoring can be really very similar to endorsement when all’s said & done.

      But…to lower the stakes a little, it’s only been three weeks. You have some time to settle in still, and probably all you need to do is keep an eye out, pull back a little from this relationship until you know the lay of the land, and try not to take sides in office drama.

    3. Benny B*

      You said that “she has welcomed the chance to mentor and teach me.” It’s not clear if you asked for this, if she volunteered, or if she was put up to it by your boss. It made me think that she’s actively trying to recruit you to her camp. If that’s the case, then I agree; you should follow your instincts and keep your (polite, cordial, professional) distance. It sounds like there’s quite a battle between her and the staff, and it’s not in your interest to take a side, or appear to take a side.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        3 weeks is pretty soon to ‘welcome a chance to mentor’ someone… ‘rushing a relationship’ is a red flag in a lot of areas.

        1. SamKD*

          +1 to this and to trusting your instincts. I got a recruiting-ally vibe from the original post too and that can be awkward even without the “hired to clean up” part.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        And now realizing that they work for the same manager? I don’t think of a same-level co-worker as mentor level.
        Pick her brains sure…but stay independent so you don’t get drawn into drama.

    4. 42*

      Interesting twist.

      Good luck maneuvering through this one. Keep your eyes open. You have some information (admittedly second-hand though), and that’s something to tuck away in the back of your mind as you put your time in with her and let some more time pass while *you* assess.

    5. Legal Beagle*

      Oh wow, that is unsettling! Definitely listen to your gut here.

      Since you get the sense that she’s untrustworthy, I’m wary of her trying to get close to you and establish a mentoring relationship so fast. It smacks of ulterior motive – whether that is to position you as her next victim or just suck up to your mutual boss, who knows. But it won’t serve you to be used for her advancement.

    6. Brittle Soup*

      I was going to comment that you should take the gossip with a grain of salt. I recently joined a team where the General Manager was rumored to be discriminatory and all around terrible. HR was involved. Turned out, he was cleaning up a bad team. I got to witness just a tiny bit of both sides of the story and I’m so glad I joined his group.

      But if your instincts are telling you to be wary, that’s another story. My worst mentors had something to gain by being nice to me. And it sounds like she’s in that position. Not that you shouldn’t continue to be pleasant with her – no one should blame you for taking a wait and see approach at only 3 weeks in.

    7. ACDC*

      As the other comments have said, trust your instincts. Be professional and cordial with this person, but I would avoid anything beyond that. Nice to know that you don’t report to her though, that could have gotten messy!

    8. Meredith Brooks*

      Vibes are important. I think the important thing here is to set clear boundaries with yourself about what the mentorship would entail. This will avoid entanglements later, particularly if you get the feeling that she’s not entirely trustworthy or sincere.

    9. anonymoushiker*

      In this case, you can ignore my prior comment around perspectives above. If you are getting the overly-sweet vibe from her, I’d be a lot more likely to put trust in what the department is saying.

    10. The New Wanderer*

      It’s possible she’s still figuring out how much power you have, considering you report to her boss, and that’s spurring her good behavior and attempts to mentor you. If she’s (rumored to be) harsh to subordinates, she won’t be pulling that on you if you’re essentially equal and/or have a direct line to her boss. But if she gets the sense that you don’t have the boss’s ear if/when you have a complaint about her, all bets are off.

  18. Not Australian*

    I’m fascinated by the idea that a 10-year admin can’t stand up for herself. And maybe she *is* unethical, after all. I don’t think the OP has anything like enough information to make a decision like this about the new workplace yet, after only three weeks; I’d advise taking the gossip with a pinch of salt and holding back on any judgements about her colleagues until she’s been there at least three months – if not six. If the VP’s ‘cleaning up’ a department, there may be plenty of changes still to come.

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think it really matters if the employee could stand up for herself or not, though, because that doesn’t change whether the VP’s actions are appropriate. It doesn’t become okay to shout at somebody in the workplace if they can stand up for themselves. The issue here is the newness of the OP, the unreliability of the reports, and the “then what” questions.

      1. Colette*

        I agree that shouting is not OK – but I also know people who have a liberal interpretation of shouting – anything that is said firmly counts as “shouting”.

        There’s no way to know what really happens – I’m in the “wait and see” camp.

        1. fposte*

          I’m with you on the shouting thing and on the wait and see for sure, and I’m not saying that the VP is for sure Miranda Priestley. I’m more pointing out that bad behavior is bad behavior even to people who can stand up for themselves.

          1. Colette*

            Oh yeah, I agree with that. I just see a lot of people talking about how horrible the boss was for yelling and the OP doesn’t know that is what happened.

          2. wittyrepartee*

            Funny thing is, Miranda Priestley didn’t shout. She was more of a “talk softly and carry a big stick” kind of boss.

    2. Competent Commenter*

      Oh gosh, you can’t picture a 10-year admin not standing up for themselves? The power imbalance makes that really easy for me to imagine. You’re doing great at your job, feel good about yourself…and then someone in charge of you starts yelling at you. You really don’t want to lose that 10-year job and you’ve never dealt with this before because you’ve always had good work environments, and you’re “just” an admin so you get less credit in the eyes of higher-ups. Just saying.

    3. AnotherJill*

      And people can also be well thought of and still be unethical. People aren’t generally brought in to clean things up without reason. The admin may not have anything to stand up for.

    4. Babs*

      I think it’s gross that people think that the admin couldn’t or didn’t stand up for themselves. I think this is an archaic way of thinking and stereotyping that needs to end. You have no idea if he/she did stand up for themselves in the proper way. Just because someone doesn’t match the other persons outward tit for tat at the moment doesn’t mean they didn’t stand up for themselves at another time and place that was more appropriate.

      There is not enough information for the op to make this decision yet. I worked for “a difficult person.” who was really just a woman in a man’s field (golf), she was an amazing negotiator, who had problems with being tactful ALL the time but underneath she had an amazing heart and loved people. I learned a ton, I was able to counter her reputation and get more colleagues to understand where she was coming from.

  19. Long Time Lurker*

    I agree with the posters that say it’s difficult to truly understand what’s going on with only three weeks experience. There’s almost certainly history and agendas that you may not be fully aware of right now. I’d be reluctant to torpedo a mentorship over behavior that I had not experienced first hand or that I couldn’t be sure had happened.

    Beyond that- she may behave in ways that you would not, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she has nothing to teach you in other areas. For me it would boil down to whether I find her attitude and behavior so appalling that I can’t condone it- or whether it’s just something I dislike.

  20. Trout 'Waver*

    Keep your head down until you have more information. A new VP hired to clean up the department is an agent of change, and will face a ton of push back from established people. I would strongly encourage you not to partake in the gossip and figure out where the real power lies in the office before picking sides.

    1. EA in CA*

      This! Since you are so new, don’t get yourself pulled into the gossip that is going to be flying all around, especially from those who are being directly affected by changes she will be implementing. Just learn your job, be friendly and cordial to everyone, but excuse yourself from being an active participant. Maintain a neutral front for now until things starts calming down.

    2. Rey*

      +1 here. It’s way too early to start picking sides in office politics. You are there to do a job, and I would focus on that and remain neutral on everything else unless you directly witness something that you decide you want to do something about. No matter how this shakes out, I don’t think you want a reputation for “I’m okay being told idle office gossip about my boss” (whether its because someone else thinks you should have told HR, or because your boss thinks you should have told them)

  21. stefapie*

    The thing about someone like this is they WILL turn on you eventually so tbh i’d just keep that in mind while getting what you can out of them, and maaaaybe don’t throw in with someone who yells at admins. That kind of person does not actually have a good understanding of how to be an effective leader or mentor, or how to interact with support staff, and will likely lead you towards really shitty behaviors.

  22. Drop Bear*

    Perhaps I’m just tired, but I can’t tell from the letter if the LW is in the VP’s reporting line or not. My advice would be the same either way – hang back from the mentoring without offending the VP, because the LW has only been there 3 weeks and it is , IMHO, a little early to settle on a mentor – this is the time to be learning as much as possible about her new job, coworkers, systems etc etc. What to do once she is ‘settled in’ would depend on the reporting lines I think (and whether the VP is a nightmare or the team is spreading misinformation because they are resentful about being cleaned up.)

  23. Jenn*

    I feel like someone who is volatile will inevitably turn their anger on you. I wouldn’t upset her but I would tread lightly. So listen to her advice and so on as you would any boss, but be cautious of getting too close.

  24. GhostWriter*

    I had a manager once who everyone on my team “warned” me about when I was new and I’d hear about her horrible treatment of them occasionally when someone felt like venting. The manager ranged from neutral to nice to me for my first year, possibly because I didn’t interact with her much. My second year was horrible when I suddenly had to start interacting with her much more (after a teammate was fired and I had to take over some of their duties).

    So my advice for the OP (and myself in the future) is that someone who treats others badly will probably treat you badly eventually even if they start out nice. Be cautious and look out for yourself.

  25. The Cardinal*

    If your boss is reaching out to you in this manner, it would be unwise not to acknowledge and accept her mentoring graciously. This doesn’t guarantee that there won’t come a time when either she turns on you or for whatever reason, you find yourself trying to distance yourself from her but keep in mind that: 1) you are junior to her so to “reject” what she is voluntarily offering you probably wouldn’t end well for you; 2) the opportunity to learn from someone who is both experienced and senior to you – and who has so far been gracious toward you – is a wonderful opportunity on face value; 3) yes, she could turn out to be someone that you won’t care for very much but unless or until that happens, revel in your good fortune!

  26. CupcakeCounter*

    Give it time and see what shakes out. You don’t have to back away quickly but I wouldn’t suck up or start going to lunch and other things with the VP. You seem to know what is and isn’t great in a leader so feel free to cherry-pick good things you see and can learn from and also get a good what-not-to-do lesson as well.
    But as a few other said…VP was brought in to clean house and shape things up. It is possible there is a lot of resistance and issues so take a good look at who is complaining and how their role is being affected by the new VP and their agenda.

  27. NoName*

    I work with someone who was reassigned from direct supervision because she was a horrendous bully. She didn’t get a pay cut, kept her title, and now has maybe 10% of her former workload.
    There has been enough turnover in our department that newer folks haven’t experienced her as the monster she once was, just a veteran employee with institutional knowledge. It’s still shocking to see people interacting with her collegially, but they have formed a different relationship without the cloud of terrible treatment and are benefitting from it.
    The new VP may be not the nicest person, but at the same time may be helpful as a mentor, as long as you watch for signs she is going to start mistreating you.

  28. Où est la bibliothèque?*

    There are a lot of nuances at play here, but something experience has taught me: it’s always a bad, bad idea to place all your trust in the grapevine.

  29. boo bot*

    I would just hold the information in the back of your mind and file it as something you know about her. You’re working with her for the moment, so a good professional relationship is a good thing – you would need to manufacture a positive attitude toward her if you didn’t have one already, so there’s no point in talking yourself into disliking her.

    However, I say hold onto the information because it’s not a good idea to dismiss it – there might be a reason for her behavior that you aren’t aware of, or she might treat people poorly when it doesn’t suit her; either way you will probably understand the full picture better as time goes by.

    I don’t think there’s any need to turn down opportunities at this stage. Just pay attention to her behavior, and believe what you see – if that sad, gross feeling intensifies, you will know it’s time to distance yourself.

  30. KimberlyR*

    Not quite the same situation but:
    I once worked for a manager who played favorites. I was one of the favorites so I was on good terms with her. I did what I could to be open about knowing she had favorites and making it clear I wasn’t trying to curry favor with her-she just picked me on her own. But I do think sometimes I was tainted with that in people’s eyes. I would be wary of getting too close or having too much of a mentor/mentee relationship because of your other work relationships. Even if you act nothing like her, if you spend too much time with her, others may start to perceive you differently.

    1. ACDC*

      Yes! This happened to me as well. I honestly didn’t even know that people were perceiving me differently because of it until 8 months in.

    2. GhostWriter*

      I worked with someone who was a manager’s “favorite.” Everyone on the team seemed to absolutely hate them and didn’t trust them (teammates always told me I had to be super careful about what I said around the favorite because they supposedly reported everything back to the manager). I didn’t hate the favorite, but I didn’t like them either (both because what my teammates said made me wary and because of a couple things they did to me that were unkind).

      1. GhostWriter*

        Forgot to add: The favorite seemed to like me and it did make me worry that other people would perceive me differently because of how they felt about them.

  31. ACDC*

    This was my old boss, too. At first, I loved that I was in her good graces and (honestly) enjoyed the special treatment I got from it. I learned a lot from her and I was involved in many more things than others at my level would have been. Fast forward about 8 months and then she turned on me. She started treating me the same way she did everyone else. It was an absolute nightmare and I bailed about 2 months after that.

    So basically, my advice would be to keep things cordial and work-friendly, but nothing beyond that – certainly not mentoring. Not saying that what happened to me would happen to you, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

  32. Meredith Brooks*

    What exactly would you like to learn from her. When we choose mentors, it’s not because they’re great at everything (though that’s nice when it happens); it’s because they can offer insight in an area where they have exceptional experience. You’ve heard through the grapevine that your mentor may not be a great manager. If that’s why you picked her as your mentor, then perhaps you might want to back burner that a bit until you have more personal experience with her. If you want her as a mentor because she’s exceptionally good at a particular skill — taking meeting minutes, fixing the constantly jammed copier, etc. Then go for it.

  33. Akcipitrokulo*

    I’d be wary of the grapevine. I also think that 3 weeks is a very short time to know the lay of the land in any way – but it’s certainly perfectly reasonable to be open to someone who is being friendly and helpful to you.

  34. mark132*

    OP, if you do go ahead with this mentorship, remember part of the process is to also learn by example what NOT to do. Sometimes these lessons can be the most valuable.

  35. Sharon*

    So you have colleagues gossiping about a boss who was hired to clean up the department—why believe any second-hand stories about that person?

  36. Master Bean Counter*

    Being brought in as a change agent is an uphill battle. Sometimes people are so resistant to change that you might have to use a stronger tone with them. Some people interpret this as yelling and being mean. Sometimes you need to close your door and throw things in frustration.

    Sometimes some people are just bulldozers and don’t know how to bring change with out flattening everything in their path.

    But there is always something to be learned from different people. So I’d go ahead and keep the relationship, but with appropriate professional distance.

  37. EmilyAnn*

    I have been mentored by a very crappy person who treated other people horribly. It worked out as well as it could. I learned a lot about bad management through my close relationship with this person. They made good things happen for my career. I made sure that people understood I didn’t support their poor behavior and sympathized with the person’s victims. It was kind of icky, but I considered it a learning experience.

    This person was the head of my division so I couldn’t avoid them. If I could have, I would have. I recommend this person separate themselves from this person and keep their relationship cordial and superficial.

  38. anonforthestory*

    OP – story time:

    I have a manager that is very Dr. Jekyll and Hr. Hyde. When she is stressed out she is the worse boss ever, yells, throws things, tantrums, condescends, makes snide comments to other managers behind your back, it’s the whole spectrum we read about on here.

    Dr. Jekyll has invaluable industry knowledge and is a wonderful teacher. She’s patient and understanding and really wants you to learn not just the how but the why we do something.

    I recently had to decide if I wanted to work extremely closely with this manager, I would be her go-to person. I would say yes to Dr.Jekyll but I just cannot for my own mental health subject myself to any more of Mr. Hyde.

    My advice – see which personality you’ll be getting the brunt of. I also agree with all of the commentators that while her approach is not ideal, she may very likely be trying to stamp out decades of unethical behavior and inefficiency.

  39. Shepherd Dragon*

    OP here! All your replies have been fascinating, thank you. To clarify a few things:

    1) I am not her direct report, but I report to her boss (I am in a assistant/apprentice-like position for emerging leaders and support our big boss directly).

    2) the team she has been charged with cleaning up has had a bad reputation for quite some time (I’m new to this role but have been with the company for just over a year). I think that there is definitely something to be said for those who are mad that she is changing things up, because based on my own interactions with her team, plus my colleagues’ interactions, they really need the cleaning up. Much of their work that I’ve seen is absolutely atrocious.

    3) I haven’t reached out for any mentoring, everything that has happened so far has been in one on one meetings discussing other work that I’m helping her with. I understand the perspective I’ve seen here that three weeks (now four!) is too short to truly say she’s a mentor or to gauge anything, so I’m keeping my eyes open.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      I think that you need to go by your own experiences. The grapevine can be useful, and I’m not saying discount it completely – just that a little scepticism can be very useful, and it’s OK to listen to your own gut.

    2. MuseumChick*

      Hi OP, regarding point to, it’s important to remember that only could either case be true, both could be true at the same time. It’s possible the team hates for her cleaning this up and she is a difficult manager in general. I would sit back for a while and careful watch the situation unfold until you have a lot more information.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        I second this. OP, separate her job function (clean up a department, which invariably creates enemies and bad gossip) and her management style (anger and slamming things). One does not need to be nasty or angry to perform this job function. If her style is offputting to YOU, be very careful about any mentor relationship. You can get specific advice from her, but a true mentor should be someone you can emotionally trust.

        1. Shepherd Dragon*

          This is a really great point. Thank you, MuseumChick and Escapee from Corporate Management!

    3. Shelly574*

      Maybe the team is a train-wreck, but shouting and slamming things is never acceptable behavior in a workplace. Now, if you haven’t seen it yourself, it is hard to know what exactly is happening. How much do you trust the source?

      So, story time- I worked with a manager who once cursed me out. I wasn’t his direct report, but he was higher up than me in the hierarchy. I still don’t know why. I remember I said something innocuous to him and he completely lost it. It was actually terrifying. After three years of working together, we ended up in a good working relationship, but I never ever trusted him. He did end up doing me a big favor that helped me get another job, so I did benefit.

      After just three weeks, I would keep my eyes open and watch very carefully. Just be careful. People often express anger at those below them, because they can’t express anger at those above them. And seeing how people treat those who can’t defend themselves is often very telling about their character. That doesn’t mean she can’t be helpful to you, but it may mean you have to keep her at a distance.

    4. SierraSkiing*

      In that case, I wouldn’t be too nervous about getting to know her: especially for a female VP, there are few ways to really shake up a department gone wrong without some people really hating it. Since there’s a crew of disgruntled bad employees in her department probably looking to undermine her work and reputation, I’d trust your own impressions of her far more than the grapevine. If she still seems nice to you and reasonable in her interactions with others that you observe, congrats on a potential good mentor!

    5. ronda*

      if she is truly a mentor, ask about managing a team that is being cleaned up and see what she says.
      ask about raising your voice (yelling), see what she thinks of it.

      Sometimes people tell you about how they are being horrible, because they don’t realize that they are being horrible.

      It sounds like you may be in a position to just ask about some of this stuff and find out if the rumors are true (if she is a certain kind of horrible)

      and if she gives you answers that make it seem she is doing the right thing…. still keep your eyes open because some people are not great at recognizing what they are actually doing or are going to say what they think sounds good.

  40. Czhorat*

    The best mentorship I’ve gotten in my career – and what I look to share with others now that I’m more senior – is more about managing and building relationships than technical details. Someone with a reputation as being difficult and unpleasant to work with is ill-equipped to teach you the most important things that you have to learn; as others have said, you not only risk alienating others by your perceived connection, but you will have to constantly be on guard against learning bad habits of thought.

    I’d look elsewhere.

  41. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    What was the source of these conversations? What I’m trying to ask is if coworkers know you are working closely with her and are trying to warn you or if they don’t know you are building a relationship with her and are just venting to a new set of ears. Or somewhere in between. “Oh, I saw you were in a meeting with VP. You know, she has a temper/Oh I hate working with her.”

    1. Shepherd Dragon*

      The comments have come from my own colleagues who have heard rumors and second hand stuff from the admin-in-question’s perspective, but not from anyone directly on her team. No one on her team has mentioned her to me, and they know that the few times I’ve met with her have been about things due for our overall boss who I report to.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Thanks for following up.
        If this is her personality/go to response, you will find out when you are around her when she is upset by someone/thing.
        Then you’ll have to determine,
        Does she really blow up, or is she just saying things people don’t want to hear?
        If she does have a temper and sharp tongue, does she use it when she is stressed or does she blow up when she is right (which is just as bad, but harder because people think “but I’m right.” justifies acting wrong(ly).)

  42. Jadelyn*

    Personally, I’d say stay neutral for now. You’ve only been there 3 weeks, and it’s *very* easy for a new person to get sucked into politics they don’t understand and wind up with a biased view of people without realizing it.

    We had a toxic team member who latched onto a new hire and was feeding her all kinds of horrible lies about myself and one other member of the team – we found out when the new hire was assigned to help us with something and afterwards she was like “you know, I don’t know why Toxic was so upset, you guys are nothing like what she told me.” (This was the last straw in a long line of manipulations/attempted manipulations by the toxic coworker, we weren’t just taking the new hire’s word for it.)

    I’ve also gotten pulled into politics that were beyond my understanding and wound up losing a job because of it, so…tread carefully, is all I’m saying. Be careful how credulous you are with both sides, and keep a sharp eye out for behaviors or incidents that support one view or another. Make sure you’re forming your own opinion as much as possible.

  43. Nep*

    Back away slowly and politely. If she stays nice, you’re likely to get a bad rap for it eventually, even if it’s just how blind you are. If she decides to turn against you, she’ll do the same to you. And, having been around one of these people, it is very likely that she’ll turn against you.

  44. Jam Today*

    “If someone is nice to you but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person.” — Dave Barry

    Mentorship isn’t just about work tasks, its about how to be a useful person in a working environment. If the person you’re looking to for career guidance is a horrible person who treats their staff badly, they are not someone whose advice you want, because their advice — by definition and demonstration — is to be a bad person.

  45. the Viking Diva*

    I am wondering what she wants from you. If she’s been brought in to “clean up” – maybe she wants a mole in the department. So I agree with the advice to maintain some professional distance – be judicious about what you share and be skeptical of what you hear, on all sides. It is harder to walk back from a close association than it is to walk closer if warranted.

  46. Frankie*

    3 weeks in is still the period of time where you should be trying really hard to be Switzerland (especially when you’re talking with/hearing from others, but also when you’re deliberating internally about what you’re seeing and hearing). There’s so much you don’t know about how all these people work together and so much backstory you’re missing. I mean, the admin could have been being unethical, or it could have been an unfair charge. You just don’t know right now.

    I would not dive into a mentorship relationship just yet, but I also would just be studiously neutral about everything you’re seeing until you’re at least a couple of months in and you have more perspective.

    As others have said, I’d hesitate to make her into a mentor until you can suss out a bit more what’s going on, simply because you may not want to be seen as a favorite of hers if her reputation is really bad (not because you couldn’t get great advice from her).

  47. Anon for this*

    So it sounds like from OP’s comments upthread that there’s real reason to be wary in this situation. OP, listen to your gut and keep your head down, and see how things play out.

    But in general re: this issue, I also want to throw in a point. At university, I had a professor with whom I got along with VERY well. We worked together extensively for several years, as well as after undergrad and into grad school. He did not, however, always exhibit good behavior towards other students (nothing yikes in the sense of criminal or whatnot, just yelling, exhibiting frustration, being generally harsh) and was widely disliked for that. His favorites (including me) did a fair amount of go-between between him and the other students, trying to moderate the situation.

    I can’t pretend it wasn’t frustrating or a lot of work, or that I don’t still have mixed feelings about him. It’s hard to forgive some of the things he said to friends and classmates. But he’s also taught me a lot in class, been incredibly helpful to me personally, and is extremely well-connected. We maintain a good relationship to this day (albeit infrequent) and he has been kind enough to put me in contact with people I would never otherwise have had the chance to network with, he’s written references, he helped me avoid applying to a grad program that wouldn’t have suited me… We just talked recently and he once again offered to do me some serious favors, which I really appreciate.

    People aren’t usually all good or all bad. Especially if you’re in an industry where boundaries are… less good (aka mine), you find so many people like this as higher-ups that it would be difficult and foolish to eschew them all. There’s something to be said for keeping relationships, but keeping them at a safe distance. I’m very grateful that I know him and wouldn’t change that at all. I am, however, cautious. I think that’s true for a lot of people. So I guess what I’m saying is, it’s possible to gain a lot from people while being clear-eyed about their faults.

  48. designbot*

    I’ve had a mentor that the rest of my department hated so much that they forced him out. The thing was, he was fantastic at his job, now has his own company, is a great reference for me, and we still run into each other at industry events years later. Earlier this year we spoke at the same conference and spent a very enjoyable day together, and my old colleagues were surprised—they hadn’t even realized how close we were, they assumed I had the same problems with him they did. I didn’t, but I also didn’t argue with them when they complained about him, I didn’t take on the task of defending him, I just did my job and learned from everyone I could, including him. There is a way to do this that doesn’t alienate others and can be very beneficial to you.

  49. Izzy*

    In general, I think it’s best to be wary of anyone who appears to treat everybody badly except you. In my experience, the “but you” is the part that doesn’t last. If she makes a habit of being unpleasant to those around her, I wouldn’t assume that you’re always going to be the exception; which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a professional relationship with her, but just that you should be prepared for her to at some point treat you the same way as she does others.

  50. Bea*

    All my mentors are jerks depending who you ask. I’ve heard lots of stories.

    You’re not learning how to act from her. You’re learning job skills and knowledge. Don’t let her personal issues with others taint the fact she has a ton to share. Just be careful not to excuse her behavior because you’re close or to imitate her bad people skills.

    I learned so much from my mentors including how to do better on a personal communication level

  51. Observer*

    I’m in the “trust your instincts but take the gossip with a huge grain of salt” camp.

    You know that there are a lot of people who have good reason to dislike her and to exaggerate anything she does that is “wrong”. You also know that it’s possible that someone who has been “well spoken of of” may actually problematic. In fact, she may be well spoken of BECAUSE of her problems – eg if she is enabling some of the problematic behaviors in the department, the people she’s enabling are going to like her. On the other hand, you know that she is probably pretty good at putting on a facade. That facade may be because she’s an awful person or because she’s trying to put a pretty face on a hard situation.

    So, as others have said, keep your head down, don’t take sides and keep your eyes open.

  52. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

    I would definitely take a “wait and see” approach. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago when I was an intern I was assigned to what was called an awful boss. Supposedly she was rude, cold, undermining, shouty, the whole 9 yards, but when I worked with her she was fine, albeit introverted (she’d e-mail from her desk next to me rather than talk), not big on chit-chat/personal sharing, and when she was frustrated/angry she had a very firm (but low and professional) tone that sent the message “I am deeply disappointed/frustrated with this outcome” but was not loud or angry. However, you knew she was angry which is where the shouty came from I guess? I later learned that she had been brought in because she was a high flyer who kicked a$$ and took names in a department that had badly dropped the ball on something very important and shook things up a lot. I ended up learning a ton from her and really respect and like her. To this day she is one of my favorite bosses.

    So, long story endless, file the rumors away, see how they square with your experience, and remember that some people have personalities that are not everyone’s cup of tea that may work for you. Let her behavior dictate the relationship and learn what you can, whether it is what to do or what not to do.

    And we want updates!

  53. Tabitha Moseby*

    I wouldn’t try to make an all-encompassing judgement on whether she’s “bad” or “good”. We do this too much as humans, but in actuality we are so much more complex than that. In terms of professional experience and knowledge, she can still be a terrific mentor! But if she’s not perfect and lacks admirable qualities elsewhere, as long as you acknowledge that those qualities are not ones you want to emulate.

  54. Bea*

    Whereas this is not from an angle that anyone was my mentor, I’ll tell the story about the gossip I came into last year.

    The person formally in my position left because Manager was “bad” at her job and butted heads with Report. The Report even told me how she wouldn’t be staying long if Manager was her Manager for much longer.

    I actually really appreciated the Manager. The problem turned out that she was more hands on and strict with attendance rules than the person before her. So all this tension was caused by her doing her job and requiring others to do theirs.

    Funny enough Manager left a few months later. And Sour Report still has a terrible attitude and mediocre performance. we have a new person managing who is pretty soft and probably too easy going. Still her attitude and performance are okay at best.

    I know I irked the report for being friendly to the old manager. But I’m not one to worry about what people think of me. They can decide to be difficult but I’m fast to alert others of my issues in that case.

    I see you had a gut reaction to this woman though and I urge you to listen to that and play your cards close to the vest!

    1. Argh!*

      I was that Manager in one job! The previous manager didn’t do much actual managing, which of course made the workplace a comfy living room and playground. When I arrived and turned it back into a workplace, there was much whining and disgruntlement. I left after six months. I know the person who replaced me, and she wouldn’t put up with nonsense either, so I think the trainable people on staff might have figured out that EasyBoss was the anomaly, not me. At least that’s my hope.

      I’m kind of sorry to read your post because I’d like to believe that what happened to me was unique. :-(

  55. Ladylike*

    If she’ll do it to other people, she’ll eventually do it to you, LW. The scariest part of this is that she accused the admin of being unethical – if this was a false accusation, this is a dangerous person and not someone you want to “hitch your wagon to”. Maybe you could ask her if you could shadow her for isolated tasks that interest you, but stop short of calling her a “mentor” or entering an ongoing mentor-mentee relationship with her.

  56. LGC*

    What are you hoping to get out of this mentoring?

    My read is that the current team is set to be somewhat antagonistic to the VP just because it sounds like she was sent there to fix things. Furthermore, nice people can behave in unethical ways, so I wouldn’t assume that the admin is innocent (or guilty! You don’t know).

    What’s concerning is that the VP seems to…be behaving unprofessionally herself by yelling and being aggressive (and to be clear, this would be just as bad, if not moreso, if she were a man). Like a lot of people said, keep some distance for now and if you do decide to have her as a mentor, try to be very discerning.

  57. Argh!*

    “I’m just struggling with knowing that she’s not as nice to others as she is to me.”

    No, you’re not. You’re struggling with the possibility that she’s unprofessional. If she was put into her position to “clean up” a department, there will be some sore feelings among the staff, which colors all gossip you hear.

    It’s not clear from your letter if you’re in that department, but it sounds as if you’re not. If what you hear is true, it could be that she finds you less threatening because 1) you’re new and 2) you’ve put yourself in a one-down relationship with her and 3) you’re not part of her area of responsibility, so you can’t disrupt her department or embarrass it (and by extension, her).

    You can suss her out by finding examples in your work that you find frustrating and ask what’s the best/worst way to respond. I was a clean-up manager after a manager who let his staff make up their own rules had been fired. The staff were angry at what happened to him and took it out on me. I’m sure they told all kinds of stories that were exaggerated or possibly even made up. Ask her what the biggest problems in her area have been for her and you may hear some familiar names.

  58. Shibbolet*

    When someone shows you who they are – even if their behavior is not AT you – believe them the first time. If you went out on a date and your date treated the wait staff badly, would you give them the benefit of the doubt or would you say here’s a garbage person I’m done? In work obviously you can’t say that but you get my drift. People show us who they are. Good luck at your new job OP!

  59. This Daydreamer*

    Something else to be aware of is how a toxic environment can really mess with your head. Definitely proceed with caution.

  60. AMA Long-time Lurker*

    OP – your situation is close to my heart. I had a “mentor” who taught me a lot about the business and got me some great recognition but turned out to be a truly rotten person: xenophobic, racist, gossiping, and 100% motivated by his own interests. If you already have a mentor relationship happening – which was the case for me (it’s hard to figure out someone is terrible until you figure out that they’re terrible!) – I would create very specific bounds for that “mentorship.” Perhaps ask her for assistance with technical or industry knowledge – things that can happen 1:1 and come down to data, not people. Make sure not to ask her for help with managing people or projects; keep it about the business. This will help limit the extent of her relationship with her without ticking her off, and reduces the risk that people will associate the two of you together. Good luck!

  61. Preggers*

    There was an article recently on learning from bad bosses. I have learned way more about being a manger from horrible bosses I have had, then from any of the good bosses I’ve had. Because I’ve learned everything I should never, ever do. I think you can apply this same idea to the mentorship. You can learn positive things from her about her area of expertise but also learn what not to do when it comes to managing others.

  62. bopper*

    For many toxic/personality disordered people, they can keep their mask of niceness on for new people.
    Once you are in the inner circle, the mask comes off and then you will get the same treatment as the others.

    I would suggest not getting too involved, and if she turns on you then back off.

    1. Shepherd Dragon*

      Thank you! OP here. My mom is borderline, so I definitely know what you mean about disordered folks and the masks they wear.

  63. Kat J*

    I work in an industry where it seems like *all* the potential mentors are problematic (I’m a woman in construction/engineering/management, and all the seniors are white men aged 40-70). My choice is to not have a formal mentor. I just observe closely what the senior managers do – and learn from the good and bad. This leaves me with far less guilt when bad behaviour needs to be reported. Remember other people may be looking up to you too, so you have to be comfortable with your professional associations.

    Trust your gut – read The Gift of Fear, and know that your ‘gut feeling’ is actually your brain using what you already know to tell you to be careful.

  64. Shepherd Dragon*

    Thank you all so much for your advice, perspective, and well wishes on the new job! I’ve learned so much about how to approach this issue, and I’ll write again to give you updates.

  65. Ketchikan9*

    If you can remain objective, take away the good traits and refrain from replicating the bad ones. People are multifaceted. It’s very likely you can learn something from her.

  66. Sunshine*

    Maybe consider how much you trust the grapevine? This VP was brought in to ‘clean up’ a department. People often don’t like that. The admin could be a perfectly lovely person and *also be unethical*.

  67. wittyrepartee*

    Be nice, go in and talk with her when she offers, and show no weaknesses. Do not talk about your personal life, do not ask her for help on anything she can use against you. Keep your head down for at least 6 months. This sitch sounds bad.

  68. Bobbin Ufgood*

    Abusive people suck people in by being awesome at the beginning and awesome to people who can do something for them, and save the abuse for people who can’t get away/don’t have power. Successful abusers are very charming until you are stuck with them/they have beaten you down to the point that you think you deserve it. You haven’t been working with this person long enough to know if they are grooming you to be a target. You may be safe if they see you as an extension of themselves/an extension of their ego, but if you step out of line, you could get in big trouble. You’re walking a thin line here.

  69. Umvue*

    I once had a mentor (not by choice, exactly) who treated others in our workplace poorly, and I thought it sucked, frankly. I felt like the behavior she was modeling — ostentatiously avoiding any work she thought was beneath her, even normal tasks that people are generally expected to take care of themselves — was not behavior I should imitate, but I worried that because she was in a position of authority, I would wind up getting viewed poorly her if I spent my time on such tasks. My advice would be to keep your ears open and keep a little distance.

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