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Leadership reverse mentoring - Increase your knowledge of your people

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

As a CEO or leader how much do you really know about your younger employees? The workforce is sometimes now made up of 5 generations. We are working for longer and C level people are in some cases becoming more mature and further away from the new incoming employees of the future. There is also a significantly higher level of diversity within this demographic make up of our businesses.

As a C-level leader, especially one who has been promoted through the ranks of a business, how do you gain different perspectives and experiences which can relate to everyone in your company?

There is the higher potential now for policies and practices which might affect underrepresented minority groups, be outdated in today’s workplace and create other blind spots in your organization. These might be related to age, gender and any other areas such as new up and coming technologies.

A great way to ensure that you and your leadership team have the perspectives needed for great innovation in a diverse workplace is reverse mentoring. This is a mentoring relationship to initiate cross generational learning for leadership in organizations. It has been proven to have huge advantages being demonstrated in many research papers including this one.

For this to work there need to be a set of guidelines put in place. The more mature mentee needs to be genuinely curious and intentional about the relationship. They also need to understand and adhere to some guidelines for a successful mentor/ mentee relationship.

Here are some guidelines to help you get started.

Make the right match

Chemistry really matters here. Ideally you want a mentor who is open and confident to talk. This should be a key person in the business with their finger on the pulse of what is happening in their division, department or demographic. Not a direct report or part of the team which the mentee leads. Be creative with this. If you are choosing someone from finance for example you could choose a creative person from advertising or marketing.

Make ground rules and set clear goals.

Mentees should set an agenda and having a clear goal for the session/s is essential. The mentee also needs to be committed to the process. You may want to look at what it is like to be a GenZ or Millennial in your organization. You may want to talk about specific policies affecting people. Think about what you want to know as a mentee and go from there.

Also set rules around confidentiality and “off topic” subjects like personal life or other areas which you may not want to discuss.

Get to know each other openly

This is about being open and getting to know each other. Your lives so far. Goals and dreams for moving into the future. This might be personally and within the company. Both the mentor and mentee should share this. It is your life long elevator pitch!

Beware of role reversion.

The mentor and mentee needs to be aware of this. The mentee may try to give career or other advice. Mentors need to be aware of this and be bold to ask the mentee what in their limited time together will be most useful for THEM (the mentee) to learn further.

Take time for reflection

At the end of the session it can be useful to write down the key takeaways. There may be some time needed to embed these or implement new ideas. Therefore you may want to leave some time between scheduling sessions

Give credit to the mentor.

This is important as in this relationship there is a higher power balance to the mentee. Giving credit where this is due is important.

Organizations which use reverse mentoring have been proven to help people feel more confident, increase millennial and Gen Z retention, engagement and drives internal culture change for a more inclusive environment. Is it time for you to start?

Caroline Langston is the Founder of Successful Consultants Ltd, an Executive, Personal and Career Development Coaching company in Hong Kong and New York. She is also the Founder of a nonprofit providing free information and coaching to people who are unemployed. Caroline is dedicated to coaching people for success and happiness in their careers and lives. She is degree qualified with a Certificate in Professional Coaching Mastery from the ICF, Certificate in Team Coaching from the EMCC. Also further certifications in Neuro Linguistic Programming at Master Practitioner and Coach level.


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