So you know what a mentor does… because you have probably developed relationships with mentors to advance your career or to help at school.
Perhaps though, you’ve never heard of a “reverse mentor”?
Many re familiar with the concept of a mentor as an older, more experienced, (often gray-haired) person who teaches a younger mentee; a seasoned business executive who teaches a young intern, for example.
A reverse mentor switches the roles. The younger person with more advanced skills in a specific subject imparts their knowledge to the older, and perhaps otherwise “wiser”.
More than any generation before them, members of Gen Y enter their careers with substantial knowledge in some subjects than their Boomer or Gen X co-workers, who often have decades of business experience. This is especially true regarding technology and social media – staples of Gen Y’s existence.
“When I left you I was but the learner. Now I am the master.” – Darth Vader
Here are some important tips to keep in mind when you have the opportunity to advance your career as a reverse mentor:
Be Humble and Patient
You know your RSS from your SEO, your HTML5 from your Maroon 5, you already have 7,000 friends on Google+ and you can text while playing the piano flawlessly – without even putting your phone down! But that doesn’t make it okay to roll your eyes, respond condescendingly or laugh if someone asks a “dumb” question like “what does ‘LMAO’ mean?”
Don’t be that guy.
It’s very important to remember that your older mentees aren’t ignorant. They’re just uninitiated in some of the subjects that you now take for granted. They’re business professionals so they should catch on quickly to the concepts you show them. They’ll recognize – and appreciate – your patience.
Your mentees are going to ask questions about basic information you learned “long” ago. Be prepared.
Teaching older or generally more experienced colleagues and co-workers can be intimidating – especially if you are mentoring executives, or perhaps your direct supervisor. Keep in mind though: although you may be younger than the people you’re mentoring, you’re the subject expert. Present yourself confidently – both in the way you carry yourself and in your voice tone. Despite your mentee’s more numerous grey hairs, you are in the role of the teacher. They are the students.
Take Full Advantage of Your Role as Mentor
By definition, in a reverse mentoring relationship your mentee will have more experience and a larger sphere of influence than you – which you can use to your advantage through networking! Develop business relationships with your mentees. Some of them may be high-level executives with whom you otherwise wouldn’t come into close contact. Impress them with your patience, professionalism and knowledge – and they may provide you with a valuable boost to your career.
A Word of Caution
Remember that whole “teach a man to fish” philosophy?
There are people who will try to take advantage of the combination of your knowledge and your inexperience. Once you’ve shown them your skill level, they figure, “why learn this? I’ll just have the intern (or new guy) do it for me.” While collaboration and being a team player is important – especially in small companies – keep in mind you have your own duties to fulfill and schedules to meet.
You are being judged primarily on your ability to get your work done – not on the work of the mentee!
If you feel you are being taken advantage of, or that someone is dumping their work on you because of your skills, schedule a discussion with your supervisor and professionally voice your concerns.
Be open to serving as a reverse mentor – and open career doors much faster as you become well known by supervisors, mentors and executives as a capable expert, teacher and team player!
About the Author: Dave Ellis is an original member of the YouTern team and is instrumental to its success… in fact, he’s so awesome there wouldn’t be a YouTern without him (and he might have written this bio himself). Dave serves as YouTern’s Content and Community Manager, and enjoys his role as the company’s “Man Behind the Curtain”. In his spare time, Dave volunteers, rescuing and rehabilitating sea lions and baby elephant seals. Connect with Dave on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter!