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Official Report Of The L Group

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Shift Into Reverse
by Lee J. Colan, Ph.D.

Mentoring is an effective way to pass on experience and knowledge within an organization. Companies in all industries have formal and informal programs designed to hone their talent and sharpen their competitive edge. However, the technology revolution has created an ironic twist to traditional mentoring. Today, it's not uncommon for a young, entry-level worker to have a better understanding of technology or some aspect of the operation than his manager. Hmmm?

As a result, many organizations are shifting into reverse. They're asking front line, shop floor, or young tech-savvy employees to teach the "old dogs" (that would be me!) new tricks. This approach is typically employed when senior leaders need to better understand operations, customer preferences or new technologies.

Remember what Picasso said, "It takes a very long time to become young." So, even if you don't have a formal program, try hanging out with your younger staff, even those who might be younger than your own children a guaranteed eye-opener! You might discover that you are so far out of the loop you can't even see the loop. You can create your own form of reverse mentoring. It could be as simple as asking your children and their friends for feedback on your product/service/idea. Be ready for brutal honesty! If you don't have children accessible, then borrow your friend's. In either case, the children will feel valued and you will get valuable feedback.

Also, the next time you hire an intern, make a concerted effort to listen to and learn from them. Yep, learning can be a two-way street even with interns. No doubt, younger, fresher eyes will see things differently than we will. Their insights might even be shocking, and if we can keep our egos in check, they could lead to powerful breakthroughs.

The music industry is on the leading edge of showing how reverse mentoring and young/old collaborations can not only work but JAM! I recall a past Grammy Awards show that was a stellar example. Robert Plant (from Led Zeppelin) and Alison Krauss lead the evening with five awards. We also saw cross-generational performances by Stevie Wonder and The Jonas Brothers, Al Green and Justin Timberlake and Sir Paul McCartney and drummer, Dave Grohl. It was 43 years earlier that McCartney first appeared with The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Before you jump in feet first (or head first in this case), consider these keys to successful reverse mentoring as well traditional mentoring relationships:

  • Create and maintain an attitude of openness to the experience.
  • Dissolve the barriers of status, power and position.
  • Commit the necessary time.
  • Have a game plan/goal.
  • Define rules of engagement.
  • Actively listen.
  • Be patient.

If you are trying to move ahead of your competition, try shifting into reverse with your mentoring.

Check out Winners ALWAYS Quit so see how you can shift into reverse!

Copyright 2011 by Lee J. Colan and The L Group, Inc.

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