Opening your mind to reverse mentoring.
By David J. Bilinsky
Change your thinking, Change your mind, Back to the future...
–Music and Lyrics by D. Ross, B. Wray, J. Wray; recorded by Diana Ross.
When one thinks of mentoring, one tends to think of the sage, wise counsel passing along his or her accumulated wisdom to the younger generation. While there is considerable need for this to occur, it is not the only mentoring that can take place in a law firm. Matt Starcevich, PHD, in an article: “What is Unique about Reverse Mentoring, Survey Results,” in
www.coachingandmentoring.com quoted Alan Webber, the co-founder of Fast Company in describing reverse mentoring (“RM”),“It’s a situation where the old fogies in an organization realize that by the time you’re in your forties and fifties, you’re not in touch with the future the same way as the young twenty-something’s. They come with fresh eyes, open minds, and instant links to the technology of our future.” Jack Welch, Chairman of GE, has ordered his top 600 managers to reach down into their ranks for Internet junkies and become their students.
A RM relationship can benefit both parties – the one doing the mentoring as well as the person being mentored. The younger associate gets face time with a senior partner. The senior partner gets the opportunity to gain new skills and see the world through younger eyes. In the survey, Starcevich asked “Why enter into RM?,”
41 per cent selected, “To gain technical expertise” and 25 per cent selected, “To gain a younger perspective.” This supports the notion of capitalizing on the technical knowledge base and younger perspective of the mentor.
Sixty-eight per cent of those surveyed found that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” by the RM relationship. Still that indicates that there is considerable room for improvement. Starcevich indicated that satisfaction levels could be raised by having “a clear game plan” and “clear rules of engagement.” The participants themselves stated:
- Thirty-three per cent felt “finding time to meet,” 28 per cent “opening up and considering different ideas/perspectives” and 25 per cent “listening without forming judgements” were the biggest challenges in making the reverse mentoring relationship productive.
- The advice they would give the younger mentor: 28 per cent said both “patience” and “being open to your partner.”
- The advice they would give the older partner: 41 per cent said “have an open mind and attitude.” Thirty-three per cent said “listen and learn.”
Other conclusions of the survey are interesting. No respondent in a RM relationship was over 55, which may indicate that those 55 and over suffer from “hardening of the attitudes.” The respondents also saw the relationship as more of a peer-to-peer relationship. Not surprisingly, “A commitment of time, having a game plan/goal and rules of engagement as well as listening, being open minded and patient seem to be central ingredients for any mentoring relationship not just a reverse relationship. These results indicate that there is nothing unique about reverse mentoring. These same challenges need to be managed in any mentoring relationship. The operative word is
When it comes to gaining a fresh perspective, it seems that changing your thinking and changing your mind is the way to get back to the future.
The views expressed herein are strictly those of the author and may not be shared by the Law Society of British Columbia. David J. Bilinsky is the Practice Management Advisor for the LSBC. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Blog: www.thoughtfullaw.com.
This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of BarTalk and is reproduced here with permission of both the author and the Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch.