At this point in 2018, you have probably heard the term “reverse mentoring.” It is where less experienced professionals mentor their own leaders. Cox Communications, located here in Atlanta, GA, is doing this using the Wisdom Warriors book to facilitate discussions. Many other companies are employing this relatively new concept to get the most out of their workforce and give their leaders access to the skills and knowledge available in its up-and-comers. Reverse mentoring allows companies to bring new perspectives into leadership conversations and make it a safe space to give and receive information.
Reverse mentoring is one way to bridge this gap and ensure that leaders are aware of what’s happening throughout the organization. Top leaders are often isolated from the conversations that are happening “in the field” or at different levels of the organization. A great sponsor/sponsoree relationship requires communication in both directions. Sponsorees are particularly valuable when they can provide information their sponsors don’t have, or more importantly, don’t see.
As a sponsoree, you can provide a depth of knowledge that your sponsor can’t have because they must focus on a breadth of knowledge across the organization. Reverse mentoring allows you to bring new insights and perspectives to your sponsor, such as cross-functional issues that need to be addressed or hot topics that are being discussed within the company. Informing your sponsor of potential leadership pitfalls allows them to be the most effective leaders they can be.
In my own company, I rely on my team to give me feedback each time I speak: “How clear was I when I introduced that activity? Did I move around enough? Too much? What else can I do to be more effective?” If your sponsor is speaking in front of groups, give them feedback on things you notice. You can be the person to provide observations on the dynamics in the room that a speaker often misses.
- Did people enter on time? Were they looking forward to the topic? What was said in the audience ahead of the session?
- What was the body language in the audience during the presentation? Were there points they were more engaged than others? Why?
- What was said as people were exiting? Was there feedback that can be used productively for next time?
Another way you can provide value to your sponsor is to bring him or her new information and opportunities. If your sponsor has a reputation for change management, then keep an eye out for areas of the company that don’t seem to be on board with the latest changes the organization is working to implement. Give your sponsor the awareness to take action before issues arise. It will further his or her leadership brand at the same time.
Finally, one of the best ways to provide value is to share with your sponsor the hot topics that are evident from your vantage point. Are your colleagues discussing the company’s latest financial results or press release? Are there concerns that could be more explicitly addressed? Are there expectations of leadership that are not being met?
Sponsors highly value the access to information you can provide, but they also want to be kept informed of what you are doing, how you are performing, and where you need help. Remember that a sponsor is putting their reputation on the line for your benefit. It is your job to keep them informed of what you are involved in.
In her book, “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor”, Sylvia Ann Hewlett writes about a conversation between a sponsor and sponsoree. In this situation, the sponsoree had not been in communication with his sponsor for a few months. In their next meeting, the sponsor was clear in her expectations when she said, “Three, four months have gone by, and I don’t know how you’re performing. I have no idea if you’re struggling, if you need air cover, if you need a sounding board or what. And that’s a liability for me. Because you’re walking around with my brand on.” Sponsors can only manage their investment in you with an ongoing cadence of communication, trust, and reciprocity.
Remember, as a Sponsoree, you can bring an enormous amount of value to your Sponsor if you speak up. Take a page from Cox’s book and call it reverse mentoring. Whatever you do, make sure you are finding ways to bring your knowledge to the sponsorship table.
How have you helped someone in a more senior position than you? Or how have you been helped by someone in a more junior position? We invite you to share in the comments.