The Eggs Teaching the Chickens: Reverse Mentoring

‘The old adage “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” may be true, but what do you do when your “acorn” days are far behind you? How do you continue to grow and flourish? Mentoring apprentices and protégés has been a part of business as long as we’ve had crafts and professions. But when you’ve put a few growth rings under the bark, consider the flip side. Sometimes what managers really need is a mentor from a younger generation to inform and inspire.’

As a ‘young’ professional reading this from the much-loved ‘silence car’ on the train from Zurich early this morning, I smile. It comes from a wonderful book – The Ten Faces of Innovation: Strategies for Heightening Creativity – by Tom Kelly with Jonathan Littman, IDEO.

‘Reverse mentoring can help counter your company’s natural tendency to be over-reliant on its experience. Consider seeking out younger mentors to provide insights and initiative about what’s happening in the world today’ (pp 86).

Whether the relationship is formalized or not, most of us tend to have mentors. Yet how many of us have or are ‘reverse mentors’? What does your reverse mentoring landscape look like?

Within the headquarters of my organization, around 30% of our staff are under the age of 35. We are, somewhat controversially, referred to as the ‘young professionals’. Having already gained considerably greater presence, visibility and voice in the last four years, we are now in the process of developing a programme to maximize the value that we bring and receive during our time here. Part of this is expected to be more formalized mentoring. Now i’m thinking that we perhaps ought rather (or at least additionally) be paying more attention and giving more credit to the reverse mentoring at play…? I wonder what our senior colleagues would feel and have to say about that! Any thoughts?

4 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I think this is a very thought-provoking statement. I had never really analyzed it but now that I read this article, I do agree that I’m one of the lucky ones in this organization that take advantage of ‘reverse’ mentoring. I find it very energyzing to work with ‘young professionals’ who are highly motivated, always trying new technologies and have the patience and care to encourage others (me) to jump on the same wagon. I definitely feel that the ‘young professionals’ are a great asset to the organization.

  2. JanW
    JanW says:

    Real story of a reverse mentor. [I like that term!]

    Back when I was working in what has now become the largest community college system in the US, I had weekly meetings with the CEO to teach him about internet based information. This was pre-WWW, in the days of Gopher and other cutting edge networked information sources.

    I loved it! I had to hone my coaching skills, find things that he might be interested in, and in return had time to talk with the ‘big boss’. He learned to trust me and gave me even more interesting projects to lead.

    I can highly recommend the approach.

  3. Taylor Scrybe
    Taylor Scrybe says:

    I’m glad to hear people raising awareness for reverse mentoring! I recently embarked on a similar journey with a fantastic Mentor from and I wish someone had told me about this pathway back when I was entering the industry.

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