How reverse mentoring can help you understand and overcome team pressures

Reverse mentoring is an innovative approach that turns the traditional mentoring paradigm on its head.

When a senior leader is mentored by a person from an under-represented background – by means of gender, age, ethnicity, disability to name a few, they become the novice and lean into their growth mindset to understand their biases and drive change when it comes to equity. 

Such a transformative experience not only enlightens the leaders but also serves as a catalyst for organisational change, particularly in the realms of equity and inclusion.

The key to empowered leadership

In the swift current of corporate life, leaders may inadvertently focus solely on the tangibles – results and profits. However, this narrow lens can obscure the less visible, yet equally critical, aspects of workplace dynamics.

It's only when the tide of employee turnover rises and satisfaction ebbs that the true cost of such oversight becomes apparent. This is a pivotal moment where a strategic shift to ongoing, authentic engagement can staunch the flow and reinforce the foundations of a thriving corporate culture.

The leadership we need for the age of disruption

Reverse mentoring is particularly effective in pre-empting such cultural erosion.

By fostering direct dialogue between leadership and frontline employees, it uncovers the hidden pressures and challenges that may go unnoticed in the upper echelons of management.

It invites leaders to step into the shoes of their teams and view the world through a fresh, often enlightening perspective.

Case study

In a particular organisation, the attrition rate among Generation Z employees reached a troubling 30%, with these individuals choosing to leave within their first half-year of employment.

During exit interviews, a poignant reason emerged for those who opted to voice their concerns: a feeling of disenfranchisement, a sense that their contributions were not being acknowledged, creating a pervasive feeling of not belonging within the organisation’s community.

In response to this unsettling trend, one leader within the company – drawn to action by his understanding of this generation through his own children – initiated a candid dialogue with one of the departing individuals.

Over a coffee, he delved into the specific experiences of this younger cohort, and what changes could be made to better retain these onboarded talents.

Aware that diversity in numbers does not inherently translate to an inclusive culture, he recognised the insufficiency of a mere HR report to truly grasp the situation – personal insights were crucial.

How to be a more humane business leader

The leader learned practical ways to foster inclusiveness: inviting more frequent input, ensuring regular communication, increasing his visibility in the office, and organising coffee mornings to encourage both discussion and informal interaction.

Such seemingly minor measures, like the placement of snacks in common areas to promote social interaction, were in fact significant and economically viable strategies that could be quickly implemented.

Further galvanised by this eye-opening interaction, the leader established a monthly feedback session.

Initially, attendance was sparse, but as it became clear that these were not just talk shops but forums for real change, participation surged.

The sessions transformed into vibrant hubs of discussion, humour, and crucially, a birthplace for substantive business decisions.

This narrative emphasises how simple, thoughtful leadership interventions, underpinned by genuine conversations, can create an inclusive environment that not only retains talent but also empowers it to actively shape the organisation’s future.

The broader impact on work culture is profound. Engaged employees, trust in leadership, and a pervasive sense of belonging ensue from such initiatives.

This is not just about improving metrics; it is about fostering a community within the workplace where inclusivity is not just preached but practiced.

Empowerment and innovation are natural byproducts of such a culture.

Employees who feel heard are more likely to contribute openly, leading to a more agile and inventive organisation. Challenges are better addressed from within, transforming potential internal crises into opportunities for growth and learning.

Reverse mentoring, therefore, is more than a mere exercise in diversity – it is a strategic imperative for enlightened leadership.

It prepares organisations to not just weather the storms of change but to sail ahead, with every member at the helm, charting a course toward a more equitable, engaged, and successful future.

Patrice Gordon is founder of Eminere and author of Reverse Mentoring: Removing Barriers and Building Belonging in the Workplace