Benefits of Reverse Mentoring


(By James Bahm) Following my words on empathetic leaders, I was asked to cover two topics on LinkedIn: the benefits of reverse mentoring and situational leadership – both of which tie in with the ongoing topic of being more empathetic.

In my experience, reverse mentoring is valuable for a few reasons.  One, it allows me to hear how well my new colleague listens, communicates, responds, and interacts with customers. And two, I’m able to learn from a more junior colleague and I’m able to see their role through their eyes, allowing me to be more empathetic and patient.

The first question asked about the benefits of reverse mentoring.

This is a great opportunity for radio (and other media) management to get better and help their team to be more productive. The question is: does station management have the humility to be mentored by a new hire? If they are like the managers at some of the stations I’ve been a part of, the answer is a resounding “no” because most of those managers seemed to already know everything. (I actually had a manager at a now-defunct station who said those words to us in a staff meeting.)

If, however, a manager is humble enough to listen to their new colleagues, they are likely to pick up on skills, perspectives, and insights they otherwise would have missed. As I said in Don’t Yuck My Yum!, the moment one believes they no longer need to learn is the day their career begins to end.

I met with a gentleman recently who’s owned his company for almost 40 years, and when I shared this with him, he agreed with me. He went on to say that he looks forward to learning from everyone on the team including every new person he brings on – regardless of their title/role/position. This is an excellent example of the benefits of reverse mentorship which is echoed in a post on, “A reverse mentoring program is a great way to promote cross-functional collaboration and understanding across a large organization.”

Professional growth comes down to being humble enough to accept insight from anyone you interact with – including having a new hire mentor the GSM celebrating their fourth decade in the business.  Let’s say you’re open to starting a reverse mentoring program at your station/cluster, how would you find a reverse mentor?

Here are a few ways:

  1.  ASK! I’m amazed at how many people in business are too afraid to have a conversation with another human. As I say in Don’t Yuck My Yum!, “The strongest thing you can ever do is ask for help.”
  2. Offer to mentor someone. Many stations bring in college-aged interns. When I had my own TV show, we started an internship program and brought in high school students from multiple area schools. I learned quite a bit from them, and you will too.
  3. If you’ve been with your company or in the industry for a while and are networking, or getting coffee, and come across a new employee, or meet an intern who happens to be in your field (regardless if they are at your station, with a client, or a neighbor) say something like I remember all too well how many mistakes I made when I started my career or ask, “what’s been some of the challenges you’ve encountered thus far?” or “what questions do you have about X, Y, or Z?”

NEVER say, ‘My door is always open” unless you’ve been in the field and learned at least three things from them you previously didn’t know.

As someone who started working in radio when Bill Clinton was still Governor of Arkansas, I am qualified to say that the phrase about one’s door always being open is an overused cliché that none of the managers I’ve ever had meant.  I’ve met three people who truly meant their door was always open to me – and that’s three people in 36 years.

How does Reverse Mentorship align with Situational Leadership?

How much do you care about your team?  I mean, truly care about their success and professional (and personal) development?  According to Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey, “Situational Leadership means adapting your leadership style to each unique situation or task to meet the needs of the team or team members.” Reverse mentoring, when done correctly, makes you more empathetic to each member of your team, which in turn allows you to be a better situational leader because you will know better how to adapt your leadership style based on the situation or the person.

The more involved you are with your team, and the more they see you taking an active role in their growth and development, the easier it is for you to lead.  And a leader knows that sometimes you need to participate with the group, especially when they lack motivation, or need encouragement – at other times, you may need to delegate when they lack direction.

An emergency requires directing and more assertiveness (to remove any doubt or ambiguity).

And then there are the times you need to let them run, trip, stumble, and fall.

But above all else: BE KIND! Every situation requires kindness.

Micromanaging is never a part of leadership.  Yelling solves nothing, nor does talking down and belittling.

Get to know your team, and their individual personalities, and realize that no two people will ever be led the same way.  But be consistent!  Remember, age and experience do not make one wise and all-knowing, though it could make you stuck and unable to get out of your own way – which leaves your staff lost with no direction.  To paraphrase Maroon 5: Don’t turn your back on tomorrow because you forgot where you were yesterday.

As my father told me: Bosses never lead and leaders never boss.

Bosses love to tell people what to do without direction; however, a leader will always inspire others to do what they are doing better, and more efficiently, and they will show them how to do it by doing it themselves.

Stop being a boss, and start being a leader!

Bottom Line: Being mentored and led by others is easy when you are open-minded, humble, and present enough to listen to their advice.

James Bahm has more than 30 years of experience in broadcasting, sales and marketing, and recruiting and hiring. He is the author of Don’t Yuck My Yum – a Professional Development and Sales & Marketing book.  Reach him via email. Read James’ Radio Ink archives here.


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