[December 08, 2014] A few years ago I was with a group of senior officers discussing the challenges of insurgent warfare with U.S. General Stanley McChrystal. We talked about “reverse mentoring.” That’s when our younger soldiers – who were more informed of recent developments – instructed us more senior leaders. This is the reverse of how mentoring is traditionally done and we found it to be successful.
Due to the difficulties of combat and quickly evolving requirements, younger U.S. soldiers are by necessity more involved in new tactics, techniques, and procedures. Senior leaders simply have little experience in an environment of fast-paced change but we must have it to be relevant as leaders. Thus, having those who are working on-the-ground and learning quickly enables junior workers and junior leaders to teach more senior personnel … if they are given the chance. For a senior leader to remain relevant, this is essential.
“How does a leader stay credible and legitimate when they haven’t done what the people you’re leading are doing?” – General Stanley McChrystal1
An on-line survey done a few years ago determined that reverse mentoring was mostly done to gain technical expertise – 41% or to gain a younger perspective – 25%.2 In the workplace, senior leaders are being schooled in the latest technology, social media, and workplace trends.3 While this is not surprising, this overlooks some of the more important value of reverse mentoring.
Reverse mentoring can also:
- Help senior leaders can gain a better understanding of the strategic environment
- Lower worker turnover and improve workplace morale
- Give positive visibility to some of the better and smarter younger workers
- Teach junior workers about leadership
- More quickly achieve critical tasks and the mission
Reverse mentoring is a technique that the most successful senior leaders have used for a long time. Good leadership means not letting one’s ego get in the way of improving leader skills. It shows that senior leaders can be humble, that they care, and promotes loyalty. By encouraging reverse mentoring, we can expect a win-win for everyone.
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 General Stanley McChrystal on TED Talks (at the 11:21 minute mark): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmpIMt95ndU