How reverse mentoring supports upside down leadership

I attended a CIPD branch meeting on Reverse Mentoring in Global Organisations this week… One of those eventbrite topics that seemed intriguing (and was free!) to attend. I didn’t really consider what Reverse Mentoring was, and was grateful for the speaker posing that question to the audience first.

What was interesting in our collective responses was that we could all pretty much nail the ‘what’, but had quite different angles on the ‘why’.
Reverse mentoring (just to clarify) is partnering senior level ‘experienced’ leaders with more junior volunteers – so the expectation of wise counsellor, sage, treader of the corporate footpath dispensing wisdom to the newbie is clearly not congruent. Instead, the partnership is a vital conduit between those ‘grassroots’ or frontline team members and those whose status and business hierarchy may mean they are physically or intellectually removed from the ‘sharp end’ of their business.

That’s the ‘what?’…..But what’s the ‘why?’

Think of the upside down Leadership model: Leaders as enablers, empowering those closest to the ‘customers’ or action to make the right calls

Compressed Change of Leadership Style

The benefits I see of organisations or even better, senior leadership individuals, embracing Reverse Mentoring with carefully selected mentors are:

  • Closing the gap between perception and reality – what’s the view from the shop floor?
  • An opportunity to enhance diversity awareness – especially if partnerships are carefully matched
  • Improved innovation through harnessing the input of the Millennials
  • Increased employee engagement and retention from those involved in the initiative.

But what about the Mentors? What’s in it for them?:

  • A fast track to corporate awareness and knowledge – which would take years to achieve in a hierarchical development approach
  • The opportunity to gain a senior level champion – although this may be a double edged sword if not carefully managed
  • Greater understanding of leadership and management.

While that all suggests the opportunity is a ‘no-brainer’, the reality will require careful planning and ongoing support, not least in enhancing the skill set of the mentors to give them the confidence and credibility to have great impact.

How many organisations and leaders are sufficiently ‘upside down’ to embrace the concept I wonder?
How many of us could personally benefit from Reverse Mentoring?  …And are we brave enough to try?

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Michaela Weller

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