From the mouths of babes

Practical business wisdom doesn’t just come from those with the most experience.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

This month, as IB embarks on its 40th year of publishing, we thought it fitting to rebrand this space, our monthly column targeting young professionals, with a distinctly IB voice.

Distinct because, yes, I am the online editor here at In Business, but also because — and I’ll be up front — I’m not a true millennial (despite identifying with a lot of the same struggles and stigmas of the generation).

Born in 1980, I fall into a sweet spot between the roughly defined generational boundaries of Generation X and millennials. Because of that I still clearly recall a time before computers were omnipresent and pocket-sized, while also coming of age alongside the internet and social media.

I turn 37 later this month, and I’ve been thinking more and more about mentoring, from both sides of the equation. I’ve known a few people over the years who have taught me a lot, but at no point did I ever actively “seek out” a mentor.

Sometimes we learn more about ourselves by teaching others, which is why I cringe when I read articles with titles such as “What Millennials Need — Feedback and Mentoring” and “Want to Keep Your Millennials? Mentor Them.”

Young professionals from every generation are eager to have engaged (that’s the key) colleagues and peers with more experience to show us the ropes. Sometimes, though, we also want to be given the latitude to just do things on our own and prove ourselves.

I never had a true mentor, but when I was 26 I did take it upon myself to mentor a college intern we had at the small daily newspaper I was reporting for at the time. She learned a lot about professional journalism and I was forced to slow things down, see them again for the first time, and recognize things about myself that could use a little improvement. She’s told me I made her a better reporter, but I think the same about her.

Young professionals often have more to offer than older colleagues and managers may realize. A newer trend has emerged in the form of “reverse mentoring” — younger, typically millennial individuals mentoring their older associates. Here are four reasons to flip the script on mentoring:

  1. Millennials are the largest generation in U.S. history. By 2020 millennials will make up half the workforce. Having millennial mentors enables companies to understand the wants of a huge chunk of their potential market.
  2. Millennials are at home operating on a global scale. Because of technology, millennials have always had access to different areas of the world with unprecedented ease. Their perspective is broader, and virtual networking comes naturally to them.
  3. Millennials ask questions — lots of them. Millennials have grown up with a seemingly endless supply of information and choices at their fingertips. Maybe it makes them seem entitled, but it also means they’re cautious and thoughtful because they know how to parse all that information to find what they — or their company — truly need.Millennials understand inclusiveness. Social media has allowed them to connect to anyone, anywhere, meaning there is no “us” versus “them.”
  4. Millennials can break down barriers to diversity and teach their companies to abandon the traditional business hierarchy in favor of a more equitable structure where everyone has a voice.

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