Every high achiever has probably had some mentors along the way. Often times, people who are new to the business world seek the knowledge of an older, more experienced leader who can guide them through situations they’ve already successfully navigated.
But mentorship can go both ways. And as business leaders try to adapt to a business landscape influenced by a new demographic of customers–Gen Z–many are turning to younger business thinkers to serve as unconventional, but effective, mentors. It’s a trend called reverse mentoring.
Recently, I met Jesse Kay, a 19-year-old entrepreneur, investor and expert on new trends in business. When Brandon Steiner, founder and former CEO of Steiner Sports, joined Kay on his 20 Under 20s Podcast, Steiner was so impressed with Kay’s knowledge that he asked him for advice, rather than simply offering his own.
If you haven’t looked into this type of “reverse mentorship” yet, here’s how it could help you and your business.
Access to new or different experiences.
There’s a reason why traditional mentorship feature a senior-level leader mentoring a junior player with potential. People tend to accrue knowledge as they age and gain real world experience, and it’s helpful to learn from somebody who has done it.
But the business world moves quickly, and as advances like social media have completely changed the marketing landscape in just a few years. This has led some leaders to seek advice from people who have grown up with that technology. A Gen Z mentor can teach an older entrepreneur how to do things like create a viral social media strategy, market their products to younger demographics, or refresh any branding materials that have grown stale.
Many people might be resistant to the idea of learning from somebody younger than them–especially an employee who is brand new to the professional world. But business leaders need to keep up with technology to stay ahead, and that means turning to an expert–even if they are a few decades younger.
Insight into new workplace trends.
Learning new skills is just one benefit of reverse mentorship–working with younger mentors also can give leaders insight into new workplace innovations.
A classic example is remote work. Today, 70 percent of employees work remotely at least one day each week, and employees are considering flexible scheduling and remote work options to be valuable factors when finding a job. A leader who doesn’t engage with younger mentors may not adapt quickly to these types of trends–and fail to attract talent as a result.
Gen Z entrepreneurs know the draw of flexible, remote work environments, and they are always on the lookout for top talent, regardless of where they work, their hours, or even what they wear to work. By building a reverse mentorship, experienced leaders can learn these types of strategies to keep their companies ahead of the curve.
Build mutual benefits.
In best cases, reverse mentorships are mutually beneficial; experienced executives learn about the new trends of the business world, while young employees and entrepreneurs learn skills like leadership and culture building.
When working with a younger mentor, leaders will get more out of the relationship if they give their junior counterpart access to their world. Try creative ideas like inviting younger employees to join some of your meetings, allowing them to learn the higher levels of the business and offer insight when appropriate.
The key to a reverse mentorship is to really put yourself on equal footing with your junior mentor. Jesse Kay enjoyed significant access to Steiner’s business, sitting in on meetings, consulting on strategy, and building the knowledge of the company necessary to offer informed opinions.
While doing this is beneficial to the younger mentor, giving them real-world experience at the highest level of a business, this arrangement helps more tenured leaders as well. Leaders who have succeeded over a long career can grow complacent, or resistant to change–having a younger voice in the room can disrupt your strategy in a good way, and help you see necessary changes that were previously invisible.
Many members of Gen Z want to build professional partnerships with more tenured leaders, but they aren’t sure how to make the connection. As a senior leader, you can make a difference in a young leader’s career by offering your experience, giving them opportunities to observe and learn, and inviting their input. As Kay and Steiner’s partnership show, there is a lot for both parties to gain from the experience as well.