Millennials are our future CEOs — but they’re not getting there using traditional methods. In fact, by
cleverly parlaying their perspective, skills and knowledge, millennials these days stand a chance of
planting their feet in the C-suite long before many of their more seasoned counterparts did.
The idea behind this is called “reverse mentoring” — and it’s a fresh new take on a very old type of
workplace relationship. Millennials these days have opportunities to become mentors themselves to CEOs, CFOs, CTOs and other higher-up positions within their company.
What should millennials look for in these opportunities, and how can they succeed once they find them?
What Is Reverse Mentoring, and Why Is It Popular?
At the simplest level, reverse mentorships take a familiar relationship and make it more of a two-way
street than many of us might be used to. On one hand, they help current leaders pass along the sort of
practical knowledge that comes only from years of hands-on experience. On the other hand, they let the
younger party impart cutting-edge knowledge that comes from — among other things — very recent
college graduation, volunteering experience, travel, freelancing work and more.
One party is more in touch with the culture of the company or organization, while the other is immersed in the culture of society. It’s an exchange of wisdom and knowledge — one comes with age, and one with recent experience.
It’s also a win-win for the parties involved, but only if word gets out about the benefits, which we’ll
discuss in more detail below.
Somewhat surprisingly, there’s not a lot of published research on the subject of reverse mentoring, and
there’s no easy way to measure the degree to which it’s permeated our work culture. It’s safe to say
many organizations have already realized its benefits and quietly implemented it to great success without anybody on the outside knowing. In recent years, however, the practice has picked up some scholarly traction and wider interest.
As an ambitious millennial, you want to find expeditious and perhaps unconventional routes to reach
senior-level positions and C-suite offices. But the first step you need to take is versing yourself in the
reasons leadership might be keen to try out reverse mentoring. Unless your workplace already has a
platform like this in place, you’ll need to gather buy-in to make it work.
So what does leadership get out of ordinary mentorship that makes it such an enduring idea? Reverse
mentoring offers all those benefits and more, so communicate the value proposition by focusing on the
following goals and how offering yourself as a mentor can help achieve them:
By receiving mentorship from a company leader, you can help ensure continuity in the event
leaders vacate their roles unexpectedly in the future. The hands-on experience will put you ahead
of others in the organization.
You’ll help transfer content knowledge and technology-based skills, including modern marketing
and social media, from junior employees upward to leaders, and bring back leadership and
organizational skills in exchange.
You’ll help your company realize the benefits of traditional mentorships with the addition of partnering existing company leaders with the very latest college graduates to encourage cross-generational communication and to keep all parties cognizant of recent developments in the field
and in the greater culture.
How to Pursue a Reverse Mentorship at Your Company
Another reason reverse mentoring is catching on is because its implementation is pretty much up to the
participants. Company leaders might have specific blind spots they want to become better-versed in.
Millennial ladder-climbers probably have specific career trajectories in mind — or maybe they don’t! —
and they want to develop a closer working relationship with people in the company who can help them
realize their aspirations.
We’re already doing most of the heavy lifting, if you think about it. The modern company isn’t just
looking for a drone — they’re looking for somebody who can bring new ways of thinking into an
established company. Reverse mentorships take that exchange of ideas and formalize the follow-through a little bit.
Whatever course your new mentorship takes, it can be as informal or as formal as you like. Your
company’s human resources team may facilitate it, to create as many productive mentorship pairings as
possible, or it can be entirely informal and off-the- cuff. You might also choose to venture into this
territory over the course of a single project — maybe your company is adding services and needs fresh
perspective to chase new types of work — to see how it goes before encouraging rollout to the rest of
If there’s a key to remember here, it’s that you need to own your expertise. There is subject matter to
which you are naturally predisposed, trained in or uncommonly excited about. You bring a perspective
that is uniquely “you,” so always look for places where the old guard in your company doesn’t quite see
the winds of change or aren’t making the most of a particular technology.
With the workforce and economy changing hands before our eyes, now is the time to double down on
cross-generational communication. Establishing a reverse mentorship program means bringing together different generations so we can, together, recognize our skills, weaknesses and plans for the future. We have a lot to learn from one another, but only if we speak up.