As young people in the workplace seem to get younger faster than I’m getting older, I increasingly notice the role of traditional mentor relationships evolving to adapt to younger professionals’ inherent confidence, use of technology and varying styles of communication.
Today’s young professionals have an entrepreneurial spirit that was less evident in generations past. Even those in government, non-profits and education seem to bring a spark of individualism to the workplace that we haven’t seen before.
These differences among generations mean the relationships between mentors and those they advise has changed substantially in the past 25 years. I remember college advisors and professors telling everyone to find a mentor. In those days, that meant seeking out an older professional in a similar business and asking for direction, help or advice. Admittedly that was an intimidating challenge to a young professional just starting out.
For my generation, professional or industry-specific associations were a primary source of mentoring, networking, and professional development. Today networking often happens in more social contexts such as young professional groups or more virtual environments such as webinars and online meetings. These types of networking provide both professional and social support from peers, but sometimes may involve less interaction with the “seasoned” professionals, often due to the fact that we “seasoned” folks just don’t get out and “network” like we did when we were younger.
Sometimes it can be the more informal settings where professional mentor relationships between generations evolve. Over the years, I found my most valuable mentors did not necessarily come from formalized work relationships. Rather they grew through everyday interactions or resulted from relationships I developed through professional civic, church and volunteer organizations.
Regardless, mentors matter.
Recently I ran into my boss from my first substantive college job. I thanked her for being my first mentor. She said she had no idea I’d seen her in that role. I probably didn’t even see it at the time. But looking back, I realize how much I learned from watching her interactions with others.
I learned the value of teamwork and saw how much we could get done if no one cared who got the credit. I saw how she treated everyone with respect – from the elected official we worked for to the guy who delivered our typewriter ribbons (yes, it was that long ago). She had no idea she was teaching me these secrets of success in the workplace. She had no idea of her mentor role in my career development. These were lessons I’ve taken with me through many years … and hopefully passed on to others.
In recent years, I’ve enjoyed many informal, but increasingly reciprocal, mentoring relationships. Today, I’m finding myself just as frequently on the receiving end of advice from younger colleagues as I am on the giving end.
I have found there are valuable lessons from this younger set that go beyond learning how to use social media or get the latest app. Younger colleagues keep me focused on a better work/life balance. They make me smarter by asking questions I hadn’t considered. They challenge me to stay on my toes and seek out new approaches to solve old problems. They keep work fun and interesting. But mostly they keep me motivated to learn.
As I become more “seasoned” in my profession, my thirst for learning and trying new things seems to be increasing. I’m counting on these “reverse mentors” to steer me toward new ways of thinking while, at the same time, I hope I can still challenge them to be better professionals too.
About Reba Hull Campbell
When not working to promote the interests of S.C. cities and towns as deputy executive director of the Municipal Association of SC, Reba is passionate about travel, writing, learning to play the uke and keeping connected with old friends. She is “seasoned” in the worlds of politics and communication in S.C. and Washington, D.C. and remembers the days of fax machines and bag phones. Reba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her blog at http://randomconnectpoints.blogspot.com.