The Newer Rules of Mentoring

In 2002 I wrote an article entitled The New Rules of Mentoring for The Wall Street Journal. Nine years later the Millennials have changed the playing field and now we have “the newer rules of mentoring”.

The Millennial Generation, born between 1977 and 1998, are the latest generation to enter the workplace. They are 75 million strong in size and are characterized as being self-confident, focused on learning and moving up quickly, team-oriented, well networked, technologically savvy, and desirous of continual feedback.

Millennials have one other thing in common: no matter how smart and confident they are, because they are new to the professional workplace, they need and want mentoring. In addition, the timeline for leadership development is ramping up. Millennials may be thrust into leadership roles faster than any other leaders in the last thirty years, as there are not nearly enough Gen X workers to fill the ranks of the departing Baby Boomers. The good news is that they want to be leaders.

Traditional mentoring, long renowned for its success is developing leaders, is typically a relationship between someone more experienced with someone less experienced. “Mentoring,” says author Gordon Shea, “is a fundamental form of human development where one person invests time, energy and personal know-how in assisting the growth and ability of another person.”

According to Bob Canalosi, chief learning officer of General Electric Health Care, one of the top leadership competencies needed in the 2020 workplace is to be a “legendary builder of people and teams.” Canalosi explains this as “coaching and mentoring both face-to-face and virtually; challenging people to achieve more than they believed they could.” Marshall Goldsmith, leading executive educator and coach, also predicts that a top new competency for leaders of the future is “sharing leadership.”

To meet the demands of the 2020 workplace and challenge your Millennial workers to reach their potential, your organization and your people will be more successful if you incorporate creative mentoring strategies. Here are strategies that could do just that.

1) Reverse mentoring. Several years ago, Jack Welch realized that General Electric was falling behind other companies in its use of the internet as a business tool, so he instituted a “reverse mentoring” program at GE. He required more than 500 of his top executives to find a younger, tech-savvy “Web mentor” to teach them how to use the web and understand e-business. Organizations from Proctor and Gamble to the Seattle Public Schools have implemented reverse mentoring programs to help them understand technology, business trends, and pop culture. And, Wharton School of Business requires older MBA candidates with long resumes to partner with younger, full-time students.

Reverse mentoring can be used to teach today’s senior leaders how to use social media to connect with customers. It’s also an effective way to give your Millennial employees a window into the higher levels of the organization, so that when the older mentors retire, the younger generation has a better understanding of the business.

The beauty of reverse mentoring comes from the fact that Millennials thrive on relationships. Powerful relationships are created when younger employers are engaged in teaching senior employees. Because Millennials love sharing their ideas and want to know that they are being heard, if you invite them to give you constructive feedback, you can gain a different perspective and help them to learn leadership skills. Although reverse mentoring is one of the most resource-demanding and personal mentoring strategies, it can benefit both Millennials and the organizations they work for.

2) Group mentoring. In a group mentoring environment the mentor works with a larger group than the one-on-one relationship used in the reverse mentoring approach.

There are different types of group mentoring. For example, in facilitated group mentoring, the group may hire an outside expert to facilitate discussion on a topic they want to learn more about. Peer group mentoring brings together peers with similar development needs. Participants present a problem or issue and the other members of the group respond to the problem or issue. As a result, the collective wisdom of the group is harnessed to solve problems and improve practices, and value is created for all group members. In team group mentoring, the team defines mutual learning goals and works with one or more mentors who facilitate their learning.

We See The World Global Peer Mentoring Project is collaboration between Communities in Schools of New Jersey Mentoring Success Center and YouthWorks CIC in Belfast, Ireland. High school students meet with youth from across the globe and discuss topics like human rights and education. The program encourages students to share experiences and learn through video conferencing, social media video and other technology.

Millennials want opportunities to interact with and learn from their peers. Group mentoring may offer these workers a familiar, comfortable setting in which they can interact with peers, while at the same time receive guidance and support from a more senior person. And, group mentoring can be built around any number of electronic communications platforms.

3) Anonymous/on-demand mentoring. Of the various mentoring options this is the most sophisticated. It is generally used to move “high potential” individuals to their next level of achievement. This process is often anonymous – the protégé may not know who the mentor is – and commonly uses outside or third party experts selected by the company. Protégés are matched with trained mentors through psychological testing and background reviews.

There are many benefits of an anonymous mentoring relationship including a higher level of discloser and candid interaction. The anonymity frees up the mentor, who may have learned a lot from his or her mistakes and therefore may be more comfortable sharing his or her war stories anonymously. Another benefit is that it ensures that mentors have an agenda-free interest in the protégé’s professional development. On the flip side, the protégé may be more willing to open up and discuss problems and uncertainties they experience due to the anonymity. 

Time zone, issues of geography and culture differences also tend to be less important as the communication between mentors and protégés is entirely online. This mentoring option is perfect for Millennials, who are technologically-savvy and want timely information and feedback.

4) One-on-one mentoring. Traditional one-on-one mentoring is still a powerful way to develop Millennials. One-on-one mentoring helps them through direct input from company leaders and peers. Millennial workers respond well to personal attention, feedback and praise, and the opportunity to share their ideas and challenge yours. Because Millennials like structure and stability, one-on-one mentoring should include scheduled meetings, clear and consistent communication, and a more take-charge attitude from mentors. Because being authentic is important to them, mentors must lead by example. In addition, mentors can invite protégés to shadow them, have protégés watch them conduct a meeting or presentation, give protégés recommendations of e-books to read, and check in with protégés from time to time just to see how they are doing.

One-on-one mentoring can utilize new technologies such as conducting meetings via Skype, introducing your protégé to others via Twitter, inviting your protégé to participate in Webinars you conduct, or writing a piece about your protégé on your blog.

In their book, The 2020 Workplace, Jeannie C. Meister and Karie Willyerd report that the top three things Millennials want from their bosses is straight feedback, coaching and mentoring, and personal development. There is a danger in not providing these kinds of learning experiences in your organization as one in four Millennials anticipate leaving their present employer or work setting within the next year and one in three Millennials admit they are not putting their full energies into their current job.

Mentoring is an affordable, creative and smart tool to tap into the talents of your Millennial workers, engage them in your company, ready them for future leadership roles, and meet the challenges of the 2020 workplace.

About the author:
Judith Lindenberger has 25 years of experience in human capital consulting, training and coaching for individuals and organizations. She is a two-time recipient of the national Athena Award for Excellence in Mentoring.
My website is at:


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