The power of reverse mentorship (Blue Wings 5/2017)

Kansanedustajien blogit

Do you belong to the category of folks who think that today’s youth are wasting their time on smartphones, tablets, and computers? Think again. Today’s gadgets are tomorrow’s livelihoods. Digital natives will rule the world, and you should be learning from them.

Tradition has it that experience rules. Elders tell youngsters how the world is run, they lead by way of example because they have experience.

There is nothing wrong with that. I have learned a lot from my parents, older friends, and senior colleagues. I have had mentors in the academic world, in the civil service, and in politics. I have listened, observed, and learned.

For many decades work places created mentorships whereby an older colleague would teach a youngster the tricks of the trade. Career paths were drawn, networks were created, and solutions were discussed.

In the 1990s Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, popularised the notion of reverse mentorship. He felt that the internet world was advancing so fast that he was falling behind. As such, he started up a programme where young employees would teach older col-leagues about the wonders of information technology.

The notion of reverse mentorship is spreading fast. My generation is realising that it is not enough to be on social media, download key apps, and use the latest gadgets. You have to know more in order to stay in the game.

Reverse mentoring is not always easy, as it breaks with tradition and requires flexibility and compromise from both sides. In order for reverse mentorship to work you need three things.

First, you have to let go of your ego, and be willing to learn from someone with substantially less life experience. Forget prejudice, be humble, and open your inquisitive mind.

Second, define your expectations and discuss what you want to achieve. If your aim is to learn basic use of information technology, then say so. If you want to go further, talk about it. Mentorship is a two-way street. And both of you will likely end up learning something new.

Third, trust each other. You must be able to step outside your comfort zone and trust that you do not become a joke around the office coffee table. And just to prove this point, I wrote about writing this column on Twitter and was immediately connected to a group of young Millennial Board mentors who gave excellent comments on my original draft on Facebook.

There are many benefits to reverse mentorship. It brings older and younger generations together in the workplace. It breeds new leaders. And it disrupts old, often inefficient, traditions. It is a win-win set-up where everyone learns something new.

I have always had younger advisers. They have taught me a lot over the years and I hope I have been able to show them a trick or two. Nowadays my best tutors are at home. The things a 15- and 13-year-old can teach you about the world never ceases to amaze me.