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The Reverse Mentorship

The Reverse Mentorship

If you’re ambitious, your career path will include plenty of sharp inclines, difficult decisions and mines buried in the road. Learning the hard way is the road most travelled, but the path can be less treacherous with the help of a well-sourced guide.

My first mentor was my father, who was also my first – and toughest – boss at a family-owned business specializing in travel between Ireland and the U.S. His resounding words of wisdom on subjects like the power of the yellow legal pad and daily “To Do” list, or how to manage and motivate a team when you’re significantly younger (yes, child labor was alive and well in my family!) live with me to this day.

My other mentors have come from various industries and have climbed many different ladders of their own. And it’s clear, that a mentor can be valuable at any moment and at any age.

With digital innovation continuing to set the agenda, reverse mentorship has become the hot new tool for sharpening your edge. A 25-year-old digital native may be the mentor you need most. In turn, you may share the benefit of your experience navigating organizations and cultures that can seem bewildering to the uninitiated.

[Related: Why You Should Build Your Mentor Network]

As discussed at the Ipsos Girls' Lounge at Cannes Lions, the strongest bond in the mentor – mentee relationship is energizing confidence in each other. Unfortunately, a lot of women lack confidence, even when they’re great at their jobs. Balance at times seems impossible and it’s easy to become consumed with the one thing that went wrong, at the expense of remembering all the things that went right.

When I was a teenager, I learned a great trick for boosting confidence and positivity. I had received a dozen roses from an appreciative client, and my sassy British co-worker Sandy helped me create a “rose file” with a few of the petals and thank you note. Thereafter, every time I received a positive note or special recognition, I saved it in my rose file.

More than 30 years later, my rose file has become a digital folder, filled with positive feedback from clients and colleagues. It still works like a charm on a tough day because it’s completely genuine and heartfelt. I pay this forward with all my mentees, and advise starting a “positives” email folder on day one of a new job.

When looking for a reverse mentor, connect with someone who aspires to be in the role you’re in, who can also help you master the skills you need to learn, from social media to app usage to writing for the web. Many benefits come from cultivating and learning from a diverse network of mentors that span generations older – and younger.

To younger professionals, come prepared to clearly articulate what you have to offer and share it with confidence. If for example, you can help a media veteran by offering to update their digital profile in exchange for their advice, you’re not asking for a favor, but offering a value exchange. We all have something to share, regardless of career level; be able to define it and bring it to the table with positivity.

[Related: How To Find The Right Mentor]

Here are a few tips:

Define what you’re looking for in a mentor. Create a list of potential mentors according to your goals and desires.

Bring value to the relationship. Mentoring flows both ways. When you approach someone, share what you will be able to offer in return. A symbiotic mentorship will turn into a lasting friendship.

Consider a mentor younger than you. Tapping into the millennial mindset may help you gain tremendous insight into your own business strategies.

Get out from behind your desk. You may read a profile on someone and be inspired, but until you meet face-to-face, you won’t know if you have a working chemistry.

Don’t rely exclusively on female mentors. Seek out mentors not by gender, but by whose career or skills you want to emulate.

Remember to make it fun! Mentoring doesn’t have to be formal. Do drinks, attend events together or go for a run. You can have a conversation anywhere -- it doesn’t have to be confined to an office setting.

Originally published on Huffington Post on June 26, 2014.

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