Life in reverse

I've been mentoring for a long time and am still learning as I go. Some mentees are so easy to work with they lull you into a false sense of security. And others serve to remind you that sometimes the best things in life simply take more hard work and effort. I've worked with undergraduates at the local university Business School, making that transition into independence and the world of work. I remain in awe of those who know what they want and are so incredibly focused on achieving their aims. And then sometimes I find myself mentoring students for whom reaching university has been their goal, and they simply don't know what they want next.


I've mentored on my organisation's graduate programme, helping bright, ambitious, motivated young people navigate a large political world. If ever mentoring was really important it is with that onboarding process, helping people get off to a great start. And almost continually I find myself with mentees supporting their growth in leadership and management. So it seems to make sense that if mentoring works supporting people to develop then why not become a mentee?


A line manager many years ago suggested I would benefit from a mentor to help me with my networking skills. Now I'll grant you that me and networking don't always get along too comfortably so I agreed to give it a go. My mentor was a very successful businessman who knew bucketloads more about networking that I ever could, perfect. We met once, and that was the end of that! It certainly seems that there is more to the perfect mentoring match than simply knowing more about something someone else is interested in.


So I'm giving mentoring another go from a completely different angle, and one I am much more excited about. This time its reverse mentoring.


Some of you may not have come across reverse mentoring yet, so let me explain. Traditionally mentors have been more senior experienced people within an organisational hierarchy, who share their 'wisdom' with newer or less experienced colleagues. Reverse mentoring begins with the assumption that more senior people also have things to learn from colleagues within their organisation whose life experience is different to them. In our case we are working with our staff networks to match up senior colleagues who want to become mentees with, usually, much more junior colleagues who may be of a different gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability / disability.


It really matters to me that colleagues in any organisation, at every level, are treated fairly. So the idea of finding out what it is like to walk a mile in their shoes is really exciting. Knowing more about how it feels to be them will bring real value as a leader to championing the right sort of change. I don't want a mentor to validate what I'm getting right already, but one who will challenge my misconceptions and assumptions. So if you are a leader or manager in your organisation, find out if opportunities for reverse mentoring are available. Leadership requires you to show a level of vulnerability, to accept you have things to learn, and that you may need to change some behaviours along the way.


Accepting that others have a different perspective is important. One of my colleagues has been looking into perceptions around a 'glass ceiling' for women, and we hold very different views on the matter. I was grateful for the opportunity not just to stop at that initial disagreement, but to go on and hear about the rather different one of 'glass chains', the unseen factors and beliefs with which women sometimes hold themselves back. Whether you believe in one or the other, or neither, you will undoubtedly find that you are right. So I'm really hoping that this chance to take part in reverse mentoring will give me the chance to understand more from people who are simply different to me.


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