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Reverse Mentoring by Alison Sfreddo

Reverse mentoring (the pairing of a young upstart as mentor with a seasoned manager/professional as mentee) has emerged as a beneficial professional partnership given the advances in technology and the rise of a younger and more diversified workforce.  As the concept and practice is not a new one, the merits of this type of mentoring partnership can have very real benefits for both the younger mentor and the more seasoned mentee.

Reverse mentoring also gives both partners a variety of new perspectives on how management views the younger employee and how the new upstart regards their manager and the organization. By knowing what issues impact the various levels throughout the organization, all professionals are better equipped to modify current practices and embrace new ways of doing business.

The following are tips to get the most out of a reverse mentoring partnership:

Open eyes, ears and ideas! Make sure to leave any age stereotypes at the door and think of your new relationship as a means to better understand each other’s generation, culture, values and skills.  This can have a direct – and fortuitous – impact on how you do business in the future.

Target a skill. Is advancing technology something that you want to become proficient in?  Or is balancing career and home something you struggle with?   The better idea you have of what you want to master, the better equipped you are to ask the right questions and learn the new skills.

Respect and value differences. Although there may be many generational and cultural differences, much can be gained from a different view and perspective.  For example, a seasoned employee might have a broader view of where the organization is going, while the twenty-something’s might see a new path or opportunity.  Respect and value differences and be willing to shift roles frequently.    

Practice patience.  As the more seasoned mentoring partner can be easily frustrated with technology (and sometimes use it on a limited basis), the younger counterpart may not have fully grasped the nuances of the organization’s structure, mission, or direction.  Keep in mind that this is a two-way learning experience and that both of you have much to gain from the lessons learned from one another. 

Ask for advice and solicit feedback.  Put aside your organizational position and status and compile a list of things that you really want to know about each other’s generation, experience, skills and progression.  These are the drivers of building a successful reverse mentoring relationship.

Reverse mentoring, although not new, is a great developmental activity for those who want to learn and be stretched – and isn’t that what mentoring is all about?   

This article was published in The Training Connection, Inc.'s September 2015 Newsletter.

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