Psst .. 5 Things Your Boss Desperately Needs Reverse Mentoring In

Here's something you can bet on: Your youngest employees are already way smarter than you in lots of areas. As a leader, are you taking the time to learn from them?
For bosses and senior leaders, staying relevant and effective means finding a way to keep up to date on what’s just coming on the radar—and that’s where reverse mentoring comes in.
Reverse mentoring—in essence, learning from younger employees—isn’t a new approach. (It was popularized by former GE chief Jack Welch, among others.) But, in my experience, it’s sadly underutilized. As a leader, you can always benefit from fresh eyes, new perspectives and direct insights into new technology. Plus, it’s a two-way street: younger employees get to know senior executives and learn from their knowledge, too.
Here are five areas where I think leaders like me can (and should) benefit from the understanding and passion of younger colleagues this year. This can be through informal chats (like #randomcoffees) or more formal mentoring experiences: the point is to deliberately make those connections with younger employees instead of letting this resource pass you by. Many of these themes revolve around tech, but I think some basic know-how should prove empowering regardless of what sector you work in:   
Artificial Intelligence: There’s little debate that AI will prove to be the most transformative technology since the the Internet itself. Across industries—from cars and manufacturing to banking and advertising—progressive companies are already making massive investments. But, be honest: Do you have any idea how AI could change your business—not in a hypothetical way but in a right-here, right-now way? I speak with CEOs all the time who throw around buzzwords like machine learning and have no clue what it can (or can’t) do for them. In many cases, having unrealistic expectations for AI is just as bad as dismissing the technology outright.
That’s why a little reverse mentoring here is critical. Find time to speak with recent science and engineering grads who’ve seen these tools up close and understand business applications. You might not understand every word of the discussion, but getting a grasp on AI is critical for staying relevant as a leader in the years ahead. 
Social Media: It’s hard to find somebody who’s not on Facebook these days—unless that somebody is an executive. A full 61% of Fortune 500 CEOs still have no social media presence whatsoever. To me, this is a huge missed opportunity from a communications perspective. (In fact, I wrote a best-selling book about it.) If there’s a channel where almost all of your employees (not to mention your customers and competitors) are already spending their time—exchanging ideas and offering opinions—shouldn’t you as a leader be there, too, listening and engaging?
Younger employees—especial digital natives who grew up with social media—often have an intimate understand of different platforms and uses. I’m not saying every VP has to get fluent in Snapchat, but a little reverse mentoring here can go a long way toward getting you up to speed and bridging the communication gap with your team. 
Diversity and Inclusion: 2017 was a year when gender discrimination across industries, especially media and technology, leapt into the headlines and demanded attention. Yet, diversity extends beyond gender to encompass race and ethnicity, age, ability and more. I’ve seen up close how younger employees and HR professionals bring a powerful awareness around these issues, and they’re often equipped with a critical theory toolkit older leaders lack.
Take, for example, sensitivity around the impact of unconscious bias—a term that wasn’t even part of the corporate vocabulary until a few years ago. It’s now a given that you don’t have to deliberately show prejudice toward one group for bias to be present. Implicit and unintended stereotyping in the workplace can be just as harmful—if not more so. The more that leaders can learn on this topic, the better equipped they’ll be to identify unconscious bias and root it out within their organizations.
Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain: OK. We all regret not investing in Bitcoin back in the day. But, beyond that, why is this whole cryptocurrency thing causing such a stir? And why should ordinary businesses care? At root, much of the excitement centers around the tech behind Bitcoin, blockchain—a kind of digital, decentralized ledger for transactions that are made across a peer-to-peer network. This sounds, well, boring. But blockchain is powerful because it allows sensitive exchanges to take place—like transferring money or settling securities—without the need for a centralized third party like a bank and the costs that go along with it.
While some critics dismiss blockchain as hype, boosters insist that the applications are virtually endless, enabling companies to cheaply and safely do everything from manage healthcare records to verify voters, negotiate contracts and certify supply chains. So could blockchain change the course of your business? Your best bet here may be to find that guy or gal on your IT team who bought Bitcoin when it was going for sub $100 and pick their brain … provided they haven’t retired to a Caribbean island already.
Apps: Sounds silly, but a little reverse mentoring in apps might just save your business. Right now, do you know what apps are on the homescreens of your employees straight out of university? Which ones do they open up every day, sometimes multiple times a day? Chances are—even if we’re talking about games or emoji makers—there’s a glimpse of the future to be gleaned there. Before Uber or WhatsApp or Instagram were multibillion-dollar, industry-changing behemoths, after all, they were apps on some twenty-something’s phone that no one over the age of thirty had ever heard of. 
Case in point, HQ Trivia. I started noticing younger employees playing the live, game show-like app last fall. Back then, it had a few thousand users. Now, it has a few million. To me, this is a powerful wake-up call: Posting on a Facebook news stream is great and all, but there’s something magical about live, real-time interaction with others. In HQ, I see what the future of social media and gaming might look like—and I never would have caught on if not for the younger employees on my team.  
Once upon a time, reverse mentoring was reserved for the Luddites in the office who couldn’t open an email or do a Google search. But the accelerating pace of technological change means that brand new tools and techniques are now emerging every few years (or months!), not just every few decades. You certainly don’t have to be “old” to be out of touch, any more. Leaders of all ages looking to stay relevant would be wise to schedule a little reverse mentoring time with into their calendar this year.
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