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Passing the Baton with Reverse Mentoring
by Tom Goodman
October 30, 2008

If you're in the second half of adulthood, do you have someone in the first half of adulthood who can mentor you?

If that sounds like a strange question, it's because we typically think of a "mentor" as an older, more experienced person who can guide us into what we need to know.  But we should also think of a mentor as a younger, more experienced person who can guide us into what we need to know.

Several weeks ago I began a series on passing the baton.  It's one of the most critical lessons a church body has to learn.  Two weeks ago we "de-coded" our church's ZIP code to discover that our mission field is chock-full of those in the first half of adulthood.  Last week we looked at how to inspire those in the first half of adulthood to the high calling of life in Christ.  But the influence shouldn't just flow one way.  If last week's LeaderLines was about being a mentor to younger adults, this week's LeaderLines is about finding a mentor among younger adults.

In an important new book called Reverse Mentoring, Earl Creps introduces the concept.  He says second-half adults need to get mentored by younger adults who are proficient in navigating through the trends, the technology, and tendencies of the new century:

The rate of change in our culture puts younger people in touch with things for which their elders sometimes lack even the vocabulary, suggesting the need to go beyond intergenerational tolerance to reconciliation that leads to a new collaboration.

Creps is simply introducing to the church what's already been promoted in the business world.  In the late 90s, General Electric's Jack Welch mandated that top executives follow his example by learning communication and e-business technology from younger staffers.  Other businesses have promoted this kind of interaction between younger and older team members as well.  Creps says its something the church has to discover, too.

But two things have to happen for this process to get started.  One is an internal state of mind and the other is an external behavior.  Internally, it takes humility for mature leaders to acknowledge that younger adults have anything to teach them.  "The lack of reverse mentoring in Christian and other organizations," Creps wrote, "may result from a humility deficit....  Taking instruction from less experienced people in a volunteer organization suggests that the insight and capability of those at the top may be eroding or missing in embarrassing ways." Last I checked, though, humility was regarded as a virtue in the Bible, as well as the gateway to greater learning.

Second, it takes a willingness to ask questions and listen.  In an interview about the book, Earl Creps said--

When I talk with my Boomer peers about this subject, they often seem stressed by the prospect of the core practice of reverse mentoring: listening.  This does not come easily to my tribe.  Our dialect is declarative, not interrogative.  The notion of asking questions but otherwise not talking is almost beyond the imagination of some leaders I meet."

Of course, Creps believes that reverse mentoring can open the door to traditional mentoring as well.  In other words, the flow of helpful information can flow both ways when younger and older adults engage in earnest mutual respect.  Creps said--

Maybe the best part is that reverse mentoring is the best way to engage others in conventional mentoring.  Once I have asked enough questions of my mentors (we have dozens), they usually will start asking me things.  This exchange allows us to help each other using the assets we both bring to the table.  My young friend may be able to explain the culture of Facebook, and perhaps I can talk about what goes into being married for 30 years.  Now that's what I call a fair trade, and a good time."

You can read the introduction and the first chapter of the book here and order it from your favorite bookseller.  But the point of this issue of LeaderLines isn't to sell a book.  Instead, I want us to be thinking about what we can learn as well as what we can impart when first-half adults and second-half adults appreciate each other in the Body of Christ.

In The Odyssey, "Mentor" was an actual character, not a descriptive word.  Mentor was the man responsible for guiding Odysseus' son as the father goes off to war.  Whether we are in the first half of adulthood or the second half, we have a chance to both find and be a mentor at Hillcrest!


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