Can Mentorship be Reciprocal?

We have heard that it is better to give than to receive. The beauty of reciprocity is that when it comes to mentoring both giving and receiving can co-exist.

Mentoring, however, is not on the “radar screen” for everybody. It may be easier to put mentoring to the side because of the energy and effort it takes to lead in an ever-changing world. Mentoring others becomes an extra . . . a non-essential. Yet, in the midst of uncertainty and addressing situations we have never faced before, we need mentorship to be more pervasive so it can manifest it’s powerful impact.

As leaders, we are busier than ever. Why make time to give the gift of mentorship?

“No one does this by themselves. If anyone thinks that they are successful just because of themselves. They have got it wrong. Anyone’s success is built around lifting people up and getting them to the next level.”

~Jane Page, CEO, Lionstone Investments (Side by Side Podcast, Episode 17)

We gain when we give. The mentoring relationship offers leaders the opportunity to think in a different way. Putting words together in response to mentee questions combines experience with insight in a way that can fuel new innovation for the mentor. We need a whole lot of innovation right now! 

We receive when we give. Young or less experienced leaders need the support of seasoned leaders to navigate through the uncertainty and set the stage for the long term change that our ministries, organizations and world need. Additionally, we can learn from each other! Reverse mentoring is where mentees can offer their mentors fresh insight into these unusual situations bringing an added dimension to the dialogue. 

As leaders, this is our time to give. To move from the traditional view of a mentor as wise sage, into a genuine reciprocal relationship that fuels learning and growth. So, what contributes to this type of mentorship?

  • Facilitating conversation: Advice giving is a skill that comes easy to most. On the other hand, becoming a facilitator of meaningful conversations can be a difficult skill to master for even the most seasoned leader. Mentorship is a great opportunity for mentors to hone this important skill. 
  • Asking more questions: We think of mentoring as sharing expertise and experience. Yet, powerful questions can fuel the learning that offers mutual innovation where both mentor and mentee can see alternatives, explore possibilities, and sort through those options to make wise and thoughtful decisions.
  • Investing beyond capabilities: Often what holds people back from success is not lack of knowledge or training, but mindsets. Building genuine reciprocal relationships helps mentors get beyond building capabilities into examining the mindsets that hinder growth. Then, encourage, support and challenge mentees (and have their own mindsets challenged in return) to look for ways they can evolve their mindset. 
  • Sharing mistakes: The most valuable mentorship knowledge is that which is gained through mistake making. Not only learning to recover from them, but articulating the innovation or new insights gained in the process. Give space for both mentor and mentee space to process moving beyond shame to learning and application.

Mentorship as a reciprocal relationship is mutually beneficial as mentors move from the wise sage to investing in giving and receiving relationships and mentees realize they can be givers in this relationship as well as being recipients.

The Win-Win

What does the mentor gain? The opportunity to be generous in passing on knowledge as well as receiving perspective and insight in a “reverse mentoring” role that also engages the thoughtfulness and experiences of the mentee.

What does the mentee gain? Learning more about themselves with enhanced perspective through the lens of the mentor’s experience. Space to process things through meaningful conversations. The opportunity to make mistakes and grow with a guide at their side.

Next Steps

While these benefits can be powerful, the nuts and bolts of mentoring can create barriers to getting started! How does this relationship of giving and receiving influence your thinking about mentorship? Do you see any specific situations where a reciprocal mentoring relationship could be an important step in someone’s life or career?

Tune in next week to work through the challenges of finding and being a mentor. Already have a great mentorship story to share? Comment below! We would love to hear.

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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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