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Reverse Mentoring – backwards thinking?

Reverse Mentoring

I think there’s a problem with the term “Reverse Mentoring”. In part it’s semantics that I can easily see past – activities termed as “reverse mentoring” can be usefully informative and value creating. However, in part there’s something very fundamental that I sense misses the point of mentoring completely…

Reverse Mentoring is most often used to describe a relationship where a younger more junior person imparts their knowledge to an older more senior person. A classic example is the young tech-savvie graduate teaching the executive how to think about using technology or social media. It shouldn’t have to be constrained to such knowledge but it often seems to be. Despite descriptions of 2-way relationships, key words often used to describe such efforts often indicate forms of training with no sense of mentoring, let alone mutual mentoring.

Mentoring, though unfortunately it is often seen through the lens of age, is fundamentally about accessing the benefit of knowledge, wisdom, experience and networks of another person through a supportive and often developmental relationship. It recognises that the mentor has developed experience that is of benefit to the mentee.

However, historically and especially in the classic organisational context , mentoring has been seen as the wise, older man imparting their wisdom to a younger person. Nowadays, the stereotypical gray haired male guru of old is far less common and probably far less relevant. Over the last 10-20 years, mentoring has become far more democratised, possibly more so than coaching.

Here’s the problem though…

  • By describing it as “reverse-mentoring” it says it is something different to mentoring.
  • By describing it as different to mentoring it misses out on the potentially broader learning to be elicited from anyone with knowledge, wisdom, experience and networks that we don’t ourselves have from a true mentoring relationship.
  • By describing it as “reverse” it uses the lens of an out of date stereotypical age relationship that misses the point of mentoring and reinforces something we can truly leave behind.

To my mind, this thing called “Reverse Mentoring” should either be recognised as true Mentoring or described as something like awareness training. If what your “Reverse Mentoring” actually describes is a “two-way mentoring” relationship, then call it that or “Reciprocal Mentoring” even.

We just shouldn’t lose sight of the value that someone with more experience than ourselves can impart through mentoring regardless of their age, gender or hierarchal position. If that means that we need to challenge more senior people to think differently, then that’s the work we need to do.

If not then our own thinking is backwards isn’t it?


3 thoughts on “Reverse Mentoring – backwards thinking?

  1. This reminded me of a section of a blog I wrote a while back. Part of it was a story Lynda La Plante told:

    “…when she was starting out she had a mentor. If her mentor said something like, ‘I’m not sure this passage works as well as it could’, she would stay up all night rewriting it until she felt it would meet her mentor’s approval. Recently, due to all her work commitments, she’s had help with a television script and used some ghost writers. At a script meeting she commented that one of the passages didn’t seem to hang together. One of the ghost writers, on his first job since graduating, retorted, ‘Yes it does’. She said that she could never have reacted that way with her mentor.”

    The whole blog is here: but it’s about 70:20:10 and perhaps not relevant to this discussion except for the fact that I think attitudes in the workplace have changed over the last 20-30 years.

    Perhaps the idea of ‘reverse mentoring’ should be seen in the same light as ‘reversing backwards’ – perhaps one word too many.


    Posted by wyntk14Andy | November 13, 2015, 8:50 AM
    • Thanks for sharing that story. I think what strikes me is that mentoring is an agreed relationship not one that is implied, inferred or assumed. So I’m quite “comfy” with that ghost writer pushing back on their client – whether it was right, wrong or respectfully done is something else. Their relationship apparently was not the same as that which Lynda La Plante had with her mentor. Even then, I think it’s incredibly important that we push back on our mentors and assert our views rather than follow blindly. A good mentor will make sure you do.


      Posted by David Goddin | November 13, 2015, 9:50 AM


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