I have recently been approached to act as a mentor to a few younger people at different stages in their professional lives. Apart from the fact that I started to feel really old, the thought of being singled out to share the benefits of my somewhat lengthy experience with younger, more junior individuals was secretly quite flattering and whole idea of being perceived as a ” savvy sage” was also something of an ego boost.
But without wishing to turn the whole mentoring process on its head, the one thing that struck me after a number of these conversations, was actually I had a lot to learn from them too. So who are the real sages? Was I less savvy than I thought and felt?
Mentoring is a relationship between an experienced and less experienced person for the purpose of supporting the lesser experienced individual in reaching their goals. Traditionally mentoring is considered to be for the benefit of the mentee and junior, younger people are often advised to seek out a senior person to support them on their career paths. Much research shows that anyone who is mentored, achieves higher levels of success than people who are not. This is true of the workplace, but equally valid outside in any context, community, or organisation. But with recent talk about the perceived lack of trust and transparency in communication in our organisations and political systems, today’s leaders are losing credibility in the ranks. So I started thinking that instead of encouraging junior employees to find a mentor – perhaps it should work the other way round.
When I started to engage with these younger and less experienced people I was instantly struck by the openness of the dialogue, but above all their insights. Clearly age and experience means that situations that were challenging 20 years ago are now only minor and routine parts of our daily lives. Repetition makes things easier and much practise makes almost perfect. But these young people have their own pool of knowledge, although possibly lack the confidence to share it as we older folk might. They lack the several decades of 20/20 hindsight to know the value of what they’ve experienced, but they do come at things from a different angle. We need that.
Lack of transparent communication
There was also more than a faint touch of cynicism and a lack of credibility in the overall ability of the leaderships of their organisations or communities, from business leaders to politicians. I have seen many recent studies from different parts of the world about the lack of employee engagement and indications that when economies settle, many intend to change jobs (65 % of Fortune 500 senior executives are concerned about this). In a recent report from Deloitte 48% cited a loss of trust in their employers, with 46 % suggesting that a lack of transparent communication from the company leadership as key factors in reaching their decisions to jump ship as soon as they could.
Out of touch
The older and more senior we are, the more we tend to stick in our comfort zones of colleagues and peers, both socially and professionally. We might make the odd sortie to the annual organisational party but for many it’s been some time since they’ve been hands on at the “coal face”.
So just how out of touch are we?
Most executives when they reach the lofty heights of senior positions are generally 20 or even 30 years removed from the grass-roots of their businesses – whatever they are. Television programmes have been made showing CEO’s plumbing the depths of their organisations incognito to find out what’s going on. The effects have been humbling, stage-managed it is true, but there nevertheless.
The mentoring process has put me more closely in touch with the experiences of a new generation. Has anything changed since my day? Regrettably in some areas not as much as I had hoped, in others, the changes have been significant. I have also tapped into a huge amount of generational information that I would never have gleaned from business books, blogs or newspaper articles.
For any women who would like a mentor -check out the 3Plus Mentor matching programme
Pay it forward
So my suggestion would be that all relatively senior managers should be obliged to mentor a junior person, not necessarily within their own organisation to avoid accusations of bias or favouritism, but somewhere in their business world or community! It would be a sort of “pay it forward” to motivate crusty, maybe stuck in the mud, possibly faintly narcissistic or even arrogant execs, to leave their Blackberries and schedules, to take time out from the privilege, but also the isolation and stress of their senior roles. This metaphoric rolling up of shirt sleeves will possibly help in some small way to turn back the hands of time and give them a chance to literally touch base.
Looking at the top from the bottom they can at least decide what they make of the view and indeed if they like what they see.
Am I still a “savvy sage”? Possibly! But still a lot of miles on those tires and a lot to learn.
What do you think?