Leaders have a responsibility to teach the next generation. Traditionally, the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next has been viewed as a one-way exchange. The concept of reverse mentorship challenges that idea and offers rich opportunities for mentor and mentee to grow together.
As opposed to a teacher-student mentorship dynamic, reverse mentorship encourages professional friendships of mutual learning between senior and junior colleagues. Within these relationships, senior colleagues should open their ears and minds, connect on a personal level of values and remember that junior employees have knowledge to share of their own.
LISTEN AS A FRIEND
The beginning of a reverse mentorship relationship is crucial to building trust. As much as entry level employees may seek out advice, they also want to be heard for their ideas and aspirations. The thoughtful attention of a senior colleague can also build self-confidence and integration within an organization.
To prepare to take on a mentee, brush up on active listening skills, which will provide benefits not just as a mentor but as a colleague and leader. Limit interruptions, step away from technology and send nonverbal signals of listening. Active listening develops mutual understanding. Displaying listening skills will also teach the mentee by example.
Listen thoughtfully to junior colleagues’ thoughts, opinions and career goals. Instead of offering advice from day one, ask probing questions that encourage junior employees to find the “why” behind their dream job or approach to time management. After a mentor has gained trust as a confidant, a mentee will be more open to gentle guidance.
SHARE PERSONAL VALUES
Reverse mentorship relationships may be professional in nature, but that does not mean that personal values should not be a part of the discussion. Family and culture both shape career values and goals. Though much of reverse mentorship takes place in the workplace, consider occasional meetings in a more casual setting like a restaurant or coffee shop to help mentees feel more at ease.
While there is no need to go into details, mentors should not be afraid to share how their values contribute to their leadership. For example, leaders who grew up in a big family might find that their family situation developed their ability to cut through the noise. Even if mentor and mentee come from different backgrounds, both can benefit from understanding a greater diversity of experiences.
Give junior colleagues the chance to share about the impact of their own family and upbringing on their professional lives as well. As young professionals shape their identities at work and at home, their reflections on their past, present, and future can encourage and direct them along their journey. Continue to voice thoughtful questions and insights and remember to enjoy the experience of getting to know a friend and equal.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF NEW SKILLS
As much as they teach, mentors should seize the opportunity to learn from their mentees. The youngest generation of workers grew up in the world of social media and technology, learning valued skills at a young age—the same skills that older workers had to learn as adults. Beyond hard skills, mentees who grew up immersed in Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok may have a better developed understanding of the social media ecosystem and be more attuned with the latest trends.
While every individual brings different skills to the workplace, younger employees may also be aware of software shortcuts to improve efficiency. Mentors should not be afraid to ask how their mentees accomplished a project or uncovered critical research. The answer may reveal valuable new tools or methods that can improve workflow or be passed on to colleagues.
Through reverse mentorship, mentors can gain as much as they give, if they listen well, forge a personal connection and seek out new skills.