It is time we rethink mentorship: The wisdom of youth and reverse mentoring

December 27, 2022

It is time we rethink mentorship: The wisdom of youth and reverse mentoring

“Suddenly the mantra of ‘We’ve always done it this way,’ can be replaced with ‘Let’s try something new.’”—Darin A. Lahners

When we hear the word “mentoring” our minds think of the top-down process of having someone with more experience on the field show the ropes to someone younger and newer to the business. A lot of leaders mistake it as raising younger versions of themselves. But as Steven Spielberg said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.

While we can all agree that mentorship is crucial in growing as a person and a professional, it is time to break traditional notions surrounding it and consider supplementing it with reverse mentorship. 

What is reverse mentoring?

Reverse mentorship, in a nutshell, can be defined as a bottom-up approach to mentoring. Instead of senior executives just passing down knowledge to younger, more inexperienced employees, it is time to supplement it with younger professionals teaching senior colleagues the wisdom of their generation.

This works a lot for topics such as innovation, consumer insights, technology, social media trends, marketing, and issues surrounding diversity and inclusion. It helps organizations of all shapes, sizes, and ages bridge knowledge and skill gaps surrounding the latest topics about the workforce such as hybrid work, DEI, and current consumer behaviors and trends.

Gen Zers, for example, can teach older colleagues so much about new TikTok trends and consumer behaviors from their demographics. Millennials and Gen Zs alike also share strong social beliefs surrounding mental health, diversity, and inclusion at work that are worth paying attention to, especially if you are promoting well-being and equality in your workplace—and at this point, you really should be.

Why it works

Aside from valuable business insights that could help senior executives know their consumers (especially the younger ones more), it helps empower and engage the younger members of our organizations’ workforce. 

When we provide a platform for the younger generation to be heard and make an impact to the organization, we help them become better future leaders, instill a sense of ownership, loyalty, and commitment, and train them to expand their own leadership and professional skills.

It gives them the incentive to stay and find fulfillment in staying with your organization. And it also builds better relations among coworkers that transcend generational stereotypes and barriers, which is overall beneficial to your organization’s culture.

That isn’t to say that traditional mentoring is thrown out of the window. Rather, reverse mentorship goes hand-in-hand excellently with it. Having someone more experienced impart their knowledge and expertise remains valuable, but so is learning new trends surfacing, especially in the fast-paced digital world we currently live in.

When we are able to supply a strong foundation based on years of experience in the field and strengthen that foundation by learning new things from the current trends of the new era, we are able to build growth that is sustainable yet innovative, both timeless and timely.

It becomes a two-way learning process that supplements what is tried and tested with what is new and necessary.

This process of sharing lived experiences across generations also improves diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. It sparks creativity and brings new ways of looking at old problems that can lead to something new. And it ensures that everyone is happy, motivated, and thriving in the organization too.

We are all in a lifelong process of continuous learning, and while we who have gone ahead certainly have learned a lot from those before us, we also have so much to gain from learning from those who came after us. This kind of top-down and bottom-up exchange of ideas and knowledge bridges gaps in technical, social, and managerial skills that many workplaces have to address right now.

It also opens avenues to open a constructive feedback loop that allows all members of the team, regardless of seniority or position, to be heard and to contribute to the shared goal of the organization. This improves communication, development, and the company’s overall culture. It also has a positive impact on how your employees feel about work—and many studies have established that happy employees affect how consumers perceive your business which in turn impacts the bottom line.

It's time to abandon the notion that mentoring should only be done using conventional methods. After all, young people have a lot to teach us as well.

Thanks for reading “A Brilliant Tribe.”