Reverse Mentoring… Get Some

Accountability Growth mindset Teamwork


Key Point: Everyone who is not a Digital Native might want to hang with someone who is. I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to have a reverse mentor and her name is Christina. She is a third year business student at the University of Alberta, and she works for me as an intern. In fairness, she is not your average student. Christina is an award winning genius and I won’t get into her resume. Suffice to say, it is ridiculously impressive. However, this is more than a story about how capable Christina is. It is about the way she thinks, works, and how she teaches me.

I’m the executive sponsor of Google’s G Suite in our company, and I should be a master. Everyone knows I’m not, and I am working on it. However, applying all Google applications is like learning another language and my brain just has to stop and think. Christina on the other hand, seems to navigate everything digital first. She is always teaching me something by just the way she does stuff. Sometimes it’s hilarious and I feel like, “oh geez, she must feel like gramps needs a lot of work.” Still, she is so patient and respectful. And my executive assistant feels that way too as she also learns so much from Christina.

Some of the most significant characteristics of Digital Natives according to the Zur Institute are:

  • They are intuitive learners rather than linear. (They do not use or easily relate to manuals).
  • They learn via participation rather than passively, as illustrated in the difference between Wikipedia and Britannica.
  • Their brains have developed a high capacity to multitask and to rapidly task-switch (hopping).
  • They see the world in less hierarchical terms – the Internet levels the playing field, making everyone more equal online.

Companies like Microsoft are formally employing reverse mentoring. For Kristin Ruud, Human Resources Lead at Microsoft Norway, turning to millennials for insight is key to business success. She says, “Generation Y consumes services in a completely new way. Beyond the clear ability of the Gen Y’ers to drive business impact through their day-to-day core work, there are also invaluable insights to be harvested through full engagement with this group, insights that will help ensure we are able to meet the needs of a demanding consumer market.”

Traditional mentoring normally involves a seasoned exec showing the ropes to a younger and often less experienced colleague. With mentoring by Digital Natives it’s the complete opposite: These “kids,” new to the world of work, with completely different social behaviors and backgrounds are coaching senior leaders on what the workplace should look like, what drives younger talent, and how to move forward. Christina does all of the above and hopefully she is getting something from hanging out with me too.

So Christina, this blog is a tribute to you, all your Digital Native colleagues, the way you just get things done and show me what’s possible by the fearless ease by which you approach things with a natural digital lens. Thank you.

(I’ve also had the benefit to be reversed mentored by my son, Garrett, who is also a Millennial. He is teaching me much about the importance of video and storytelling. Thank you, Garrett). 

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Intentionally hang with a Digital Native. There is a natural digital experience difference between the oldest and youngest millennials.
  2. Be confident and humble enough to know how much you can learn from these reverse mentors. And while ideally they are respectful, don’t be shocked that these Digital Natives are not overly impressed with your title and office. The Internet does level the playing field. And remember, they’ve been “smarter” than their parents from the beginning.
  3. Be energized and have fun. It’s like getting a little bit of a brain transfusion.

Mentored in Personal Leadership,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: I too have had the pleasure of working with Christina, and I’m definitely on the “old” side of the Millennial spectrum. I consider myself a pretty intelligent individual, but I’m had my brain scrambled a few times learning how sophisticated she is when it comes to social media and technology. I look forward to learning much more!

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis