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Expand Your View: Mentor Across Generations

Ana Polanco

I have often heard the phrase “Mentor a young person.” It’s a powerful statement to the importance we place on the nurturing young leaders early on in the process. One of the things I have enjoyed about mentoring someone younger than me is how much I learn from them.

And yet when I think about all the life experience I have had so far. I would say “Mentoring Across Generations” is something we should embrace as a way to honor the diversity in learning that we experience as leaders in our careers and at home and the realities of time in our ever-changing society.

Our society has drawn a sharp line in the sand between Millennials and the Baby Boomer Generations.  As a member of the Generation X, born between both of these generations, I feel like a bridge sometimes, taking the best of both generations and catalyzing it into gold nuggets of knowledge.

So what can we learn from each generation about mentoring?

Baby Boomers are Hard Workers and Team Players. I have been mentored by several Baby Boomers. I have enjoyed getting to understand how they see the world. There is a strong focus on hard work, respecting elders and for loyalty. These qualities helped me see the importance of doing quality work and also taught me to respect the accomplishments of those who came before me. Out of this experience I grew my respect for history and for looking back at what has been done before moving forward with a new plan. This made me a better team player and leader in my career.

Generation X place a high value on Problem Solving and Growth. One of the things I have truly enjoyed is learning from my own generation, those my age, younger and older. While mentoring is more informal in my generation. I love being able to reach people in my network to brainstorm and problem solve management and leadership issues. There is a general energy among Generation X to exchange ideas, find new solutions and keep growing, both the organizations and businesses we run and our own internal growth. Gen X believes strongly in the importance of happiness and balance and are often champions of going slow to go fast. This informal mentoring has allowed me to grow as a leader and to better express my ideas to the world.

The Millennials remind us of self-education and productivity. Millennials are part of the beginning of the tech boom and have much to teach us. One of the benefits of being part of the age of technology is the ability to access more information in real time. This is something I longed for in my early career. Looking up an article in 2003 when I went to law school is totally different than looking for it in 1998 when I started working full-time. Their capacity to absorb information, teach themselves new ways of work brings a level of preparation and productivity to the workforce like no other generation. Millennials remind us that we can mentor ourselves by doing our own research, picking up a book or attending a seminar is also a great form of self- directed mentoring. It’s no wonder they are so productive.

And what about Gen Z- the fastest youngest growing entrepreneurs of our time! Born after 1995, some of them are 20 years old or younger. These are the interns in your office or the children you are nurturing at home. While they haven’t entered the workforce in large enough numbers yet, this is going to be the most tech savvy social media generation. They are as business insider refers to them, “the ultimate self-educators.” One thing I have learned from Gen Z, to be more entrepreneurial than I already am. They think very freely outside the box and are not afraid to create a new business or start a new project and shop it around. I love this free spirited way of thinking which is so necessary in a time when US universities are so outrageously expensive.  

  So what can we do to expand our view on mentoring?

-          Mentoring does not have to be a hierarchy. We can all benefit from mentoring at every stage of life. You don’t have to mentor young people exclusively. By learning from multiple generations we expand our adaptability and ability to lead in new and different ways. Mentoring doesn’t have to be so formal anymore. It’s okay to ask to go for coffee and get to know your boss or someone in a leadership role in your company.  All you have to do is ask.

-          Your greatest champion is yourself. Taking the time to read a book, listen to a podcast, or invest in a seminar to expand your view of the world can help you become a more engaged and creative leader.  The more expansive our view becomes, the more adaptable we can be to any situation.

-          There is something to learn from everyone. We all have blind spots based on what we value at any given time in our lives. Learning across generations opens us up to trying new forms of engagement and really being in the moment with other leaders, without judgement. This can help us grow in new and unexpected ways.  

-          History Matters. While we draw generalizations around each generation, the history we bring is important in informing where we go tomorrow. By looking back on where we have been, we can make better decisions on where we want to be in the future. If we slow down to learn the history of our colleagues, business partners, allies and communities, we can become strategic change agents, working across generations to develop shared values that support the goals of our institutions and the well-being of our workforce.

It’s Your Turn: How are you mentoring across generations?

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