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Mentoring: It’s not just a one-way street


When we think of mentoring, many of us have the “old school” idea in mind.

Traditional mentoring programs, in which younger employees are assigned to older mentors, never worked well for all participants. Many mentors didn’t commit the time necessary to the process, and for half of those involved, the chemistry between the mentor and protege just didn’t “click”.

Today, the big issue is knowledge. With information changing so quickly, the classic mentor/protégé relationship really can’t work because it’s impossible for one mentor to know enough to provide the protégé with everything he or she needs. That’s why effective mentoring should no longer be a mentor/protégé relationship (with all its complicated dynamics); it should be more of a mutual mentoring relationship.

Younger, less experienced employees can actually mentor their older colleagues in two ways: First, this digital generation is more familiar with technology than their elders, and they want to help their elders learn. Sixty-five percent of Millennials say, “I should be mentoring older coworkers when it comes to tech and getting things done.” Secondly, the younger generation can mentor older colleagues by helping them learn the language and perspective of a different generation.

The world is too complex for the mentor/protégé approach. Today each of us needs a network of mentors both inside and outside our organization, both superiors and peers. Peers are especially important because there aren’t enough managers for all the people who would like a mentor. Besides this, it has been shown that we want to learn from our peers. Randstad learned in 2009 that employees were more likely to turn to coworkers, teachers, or professors as role models rather than business leaders. Therefore, a network of mentors that includes peers would be more relevant to those who don’t aspire to management. Peer groups are being used effectively to mentor people in organizations.

I’ve asked thousands of managers what they find most rewarding in their jobs, and the most frequent answer is mentoring – helping younger and less experience people grow, develop, and achieve what they didn’t believe they were capable of. It would be tragic if some managers never got to experience this thrill because they thought they were too busy, or because they were stuck in the past.

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