Bonnie came into my life when I was just 15 years old, and Debbie when I was almost 30. On the surface, these two women are seemingly quite different; Bonnie is a soft spoken free spirit, who is compassionate and open. Debbie is a firecracker; she is driven and passionate, and swears like a sailor.
So what do they have in common?
Both of these amazing and powerful women were my mentors, at two very critical times in my life. They inspired me to travel the world, explore my passions, and aim high. They taught me to listen, learn, and lead. Because of their mentoring, I was more willing to try new things and take more risks.
And this year, I had the unexpected opportunity to reconnect with both of them. More importantly, I was able to thank them and tell them how their mentoring shaped my life and career. I am eternally grateful to have had such wonderful mentors, two people who were willing to share their wisdom and knowledge with me.
What made them such amazing mentors?
They treated me with respect and a sense of equity. They didn’t just recognize my potential, but the value I had at the time. It felt so good to have others recognize my talent and potential. It made me more willing and open to learning, and also possible for me to hear some hard truths.
Their mentoring not only helped me with my career, but also inspired me to be a mentor and help others develop and grow their own careers. It has caused a continuous ripple effect that still expands as those who I’ve mentored become mentors themselves.
But the critical lesson about their mentoring is that they were able to mentor me with respect and sense of equity. It was those values I carried with me when I began to formerly lead and mentor others. The easiest way to “turn off” a follower or mentee is to treat them like they aren’t capable. I learned from both experience and research, that we are able to have much more influence over others when they are treated as competent and valuable. And the more you do that, the more competent and valuable they become.
In my Master’s thesis, I share the value of equity in intergenerational collaboration. And years later when I began to research and write about mentoring, I became certain that mutual mentoring is an invaluable tool for intergenerational collaboration.
So what exactly is mutual mentoring?
The technical definition is “a non-hierarchical developmental relationship based upon mutual reciprocity between two individuals”, which basically means a mentoring relationship where both parties act as mentor and mentee, recognizing that there is something to learn from each other.
As organizations have struggled to understand your generation, develop strong multi-generational teams, and foster age inclusion, “reverse mentoring” began to trend. The idea was simple, bridge the generational gaps by having younger professionals mentor more seasoned professionals, typically on tech related skills.
It’s a great idea but it ignores two critical factors:
- More senior and seasoned professionals make great mentors and you want to be mentored. Research is conclusive that Millennials not only want to be mentored, but in fact, prefer access to senior manager to a raise. There is more to learn from young professionals than tech related skills.
- Millennials, you have an entire breadth of knowledge and skills that are of value to even the most seasoned senior manager.
What do you (Xennials, Millennials, or GenZ) know that older folks don’t know?
You have had access to the most recent research and innovations within your industry. You have learned to collaborate and work on diverse teams. You are wickedly resourceful and efficient, hard working, passionate, and driven AF.
When I meet colleagues who tell me that they haven’t seen those qualities in their younger staff, I suggest it is for one of two reasons:
- They hired the wrong person, one who just isn’t a fit for your organization.
- They haven’t given them the freedom and space to shine.
Too often, your generation is being held back because some think “you have to pay your dues”. I hear this all the time.
You did whatever it took to get the job so you should be able to do the job. And if you want to do more or move up, someone should tell you how that can happen.
Real leaders create opportunities for their followers, not obstacles.
The value former generations have about starting at the bottom to earn your way to the top is no longer relevant and helpful to an organizations bottom line. It is an incredibly poor use of resources to have talent within an organization sit around to wait their turn to “pay their dues”. This is archaic and one of the primary reason organizations are struggling to hold onto millennial talent.
Mutual mentoring is a great option!
When organizations encourage and support mutual mentoring, they create powerful learning relationships that strengthens their capacity and competitive edge.
Mutual mentoring relationships:
- Increase engagement and retention.
- Build capacity by cross-training employees.
- Support succession planning through knowledge sharing.
When people are able to enter into mentoring relationships with equity and share their individual talent and expertise, it creates learning and growth opportunities for everyone.
When people are learning they are more engaged, and feel more valued and supported.
All it takes is a willingness to be open to learning, and for everyone to accept that we all have more to learn and everyone has something to teach.
To learn more about mutual mentoring and its benefits CLICK HERE to read the whitepaper.
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