Multi-Generational Mentorship: Three Reasons to Mentor & Be Mentored

Amber Johnson Leadership

Last Friday was my first meeting with a young woman I’ve agreed to mentor professionally. She was prompt and professional and our conversation was polite and fluid. But she made one giant faux paus:

As I rushed into the appointment, I mentioned that I had just dropped my son off at school. A few minutes later, the young woman asked what college my son attended. Since my son is in kindergarten, I was taken aback (read: horrified) by the suggestion that I could have an 18 year-old son.

I corrected her mistake and she apologized (though not nearly as much as I thought was necessary!), and the conversation continued unharmed. But the event reminded me of just how important it is to mentor, and be reverse-mentored, across generational lines.

Our circle of colleagues can often be homogeneous, in terms of age, gender, race, and life experiences. When we step outside these circles, we find what we know to be a little less certain. Things look different to an 18 year-old, or a 70 year-old, than they do to me. They look different to a single mom than they do to a retired father of three. The skill sets you need to master the corner suite are changing, and that 18 year-old probably knows more about some of the skills than you do. And leadership styles – what used to work may be broke and will not work at all tomorrow.

Three Reasons to Mentor & Be Mentored

1. You have wisdom to share. 

When asked to mentor someone, one frequent excuse is that “I’m not sure I have any wisdom to share.”  I know, as I sat down across from an eager young woman, this is exactly how I felt. Her age faux paus reminded me that from her perspective, I’m an accomplished and mature professional. And it turns out, I did have a little wisdom to share.

We learn skills and develop capacity over time. The professional skills you now employ on a daily basis may seem old-hat to you, but they are flashes of brilliance to someone at an earlier career stage.

2. You have wisdom to learn. 

Tom Walter, CEO of Tasty Catering, has spent the last 10 years aggressively learning from the younger leaders on his growing staff. Though it wasn’t through formal mentorship, these young professionals were bold enough to suggest how Walter might need to develop as a leader … and he was smart enough to listen.

He tells the story of letting go of his old leadership style in this short video:

3. You have skills to learn. 

Bob Johansen is a professional futurist: he predicts the future of business and technology to help businesses be nimble in the face of change. Johansen says “digital natives,” today’s teens who are being raised in an age of abundant digital technology, do not see a clear delineation from their “online” and “offline” lives.

Those of us who weren’t raised with laptops and cell phones struggle to fully grasp the super-connected future because digital technology is our second language. Your long-term usefulness as an executive may be dependent on your ability to learn this digital language, and for that you need a tutor. Johansen recommends reverse-tutoring: asking a 14 year-old to mentor you in video games, social media, and computer languages.

See more of Johansen’s thoughts regarding reverse-mentoring in this video:

How has mentorship – being mentored, or mentoring someone else – helped you reach professional and personal goals? Share your story here.


Amber Johnson is the CVDL’s corporate relations advisor and a non-profit and small business communications specialist. She writes about forgiveness, and other non-business topics, on her blog, 

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