How a young "know-it-all" can give you that extra edge

By the time most of us reach our 50s or 60s we have pretty well “been there, done that”. We know an awful lot – but that very knowledge can be a double-edged sword. We can tend to stick to tried-and-trusted methods rather than thinking outside the square.

More and more successful people are recognising that, and adding a little dose of youth to the mix in the form of “reverse mentoring”.

Reverse mentoring has been around for at least 10 years, but as technology starts advancing at a faster and faster pace, so too is this form of mentoring.

Younger people can be more tech-savvy and up to speed on the latest developments in a particular field. Not only this, but they are not so set in their ways and can think laterally to solve problems, whether business or life-coaching related.

That’s not to say it is always a one-way street, because many relationships are mutually beneficial, with the older person also contributing.

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Typically, older employees will learn social media from the younger person and the younger person will learn business technology and industry practices from the older.

Alan Webber, the co-founder of Fast Company, explained reverse mentoring to Forbes: “It’s a situation where the old fogies in an organisation realise that by the time you’re in your forties and fifties, you’re not in touch with the future the same way the young twenty-something’s. They come with fresh eyes, open minds, and instant links to the technology of our future”.

Companies have been quick to embrace the concept of reverse mentoring and some are pairing up younger staff with older as a matter of course.

Business groups such as chambers of commerce are also pairing volunteer mentors with business owners, with the mentor being chosen because of their skills, regardless of age, but many of them younger than the business owner they are helping.
Outside the workplace, younger life coaches are also having great success mentoring older people, even though they don’t have the life experience of the person they are coaching.

Many of the people spruiking those expensive life-changing DVDs are young, too young to have experienced first-hand what they are talking about but nevertheless able to give advice because of their training in human behaviour.

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There are a few underpinning requirements for reverse mentoring to work.

The person who wants to learn must share a genuine willingness to learn and not just be paying lip service to the mentoring. Don’t bother going into it with a know-it-all approach because it won’t work.

Trust, transparency and honesty are also paramount. You need to be upfront about your strengths and weaknesses and not try and hide them because you don’t want to lose face.

Yes, we live in a changing world. Many years ago mentoring used to be all about the older and more experienced worker showing the newbie the ropes.

The fast-developing workplace of today has stood that concept on its head and it’s a case of using every available tool to keep up and even ahead of what is happening.

That does mean effectively teaching an old dog new tricks – and a touch of youth can be just the way to do it.

How do you feel about the idea of being mentored by a younger person?