The best mentoring literature has consistently pointed out that good mentoring is always a mutual experience — both mentor and mentee grow as they journey together. This has definitely been my experience. I had suggested in an earlier article that this mutual mentoring experience needs to be intentionally recognised today when the different generations have so much they can offer to each other. I proposed the name intergenerational mentoring.

. . . intergenerational mentoring where mentor and mentee have interchangeable roles, with everyone helping everyone else to grow in maturity. Indeed, we think now is the time for intergenerational mentoring. In the past the older mentor had both knowledge and wisdom they could pass on to the mentee. But as my colleague Wei Hao reminds us, today the young have more learned expertise but the old have more lived experience, i.e., the old have more experience but the young have more knowledge.

On further reflection, maybe intergenerational mentoring is too restrictive a term, implying that mentor and mentee are from different generations. This is not always the case. Mentor and mentee may very well be from the same generation.  Maybe we should go back to a more familiar term — mutual mentoring.

Tamara Thorpe, who specialises in millennial mentoring in the marketplace, has similar concerns. She writes:

So what exactly is mutual mentoring?

The technical definition is “a non-hierarchical developmental relationship based upon mutual reciprocity between two individuals”, which basically means a mentoring relationship where both parties act as mentor and mentee, recognizing that there is something to learn from each other.

As organizations have struggled to understand your generation, develop strong multi-generational teams, and foster age inclusion, “reverse mentoring” began to trend. The idea was simple, bridge the generational gaps by having younger professionals mentor more seasoned professionals, typically on tech related skills.

It’s a great idea but it ignores two critical factors:

  1. More senior and seasoned professionals make great mentors and you (Millennials) want to be mentored. Research is conclusive that Millennials not only want to be mentored, but in fact, prefer access to senior manager to a raise. There is more to learn from young professionals than tech related skills.

  2. Millennials, you have an entire breadth of knowledge and skills that are of value to even the most seasoned senior manager.

Thorpe states the case for mutual mentoring well. Her observations echo my own and will guide my own research and writing going forward.

An older, more mature person may indeed be the designated mentor, but the exercise will be one where “. . . both parties act as mentor and mentee, recognising that there is something to learn from each other.” This is particularly needed in a time of rapid change and where folks from different generations and different formative experiences interact with each other.

Traditionally what the older mentor has to offer is his or her experience. But as Peter Gregoire reminds us, experience is contextual (Mentoring Reversed [Hong Kong: Proverse Hong Kong, 2017] ). It may not be immediately applicable to a newer context. The internet, for example, has been an enormous game changer. Experience gleaned from a pre-internet era may not be automatically applicable to a generation shaped by the internet. This does not mean that wisdom gleaned in the past is no longer helpful. But a dialogue between an older mentor and a younger mentee may help both uncover universal principles still relevant today.

Underlying any attempt at mutual mentoring is mutual respect — all those in the mentoring journey must respect each other believing that they can learn from each other. The young must resist the temptation to dismiss the old as being out of touch with the world today and the old must resist the temptation to dismiss the young because the young have less life experience. Philippians 2:3–4 may very well be the Bible verses that undergird mutual mentoring.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Or perhaps Romans 12:3a

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment . . .

In a day where there is so great a need for the gospel, we need all the wisdom we can muster and that means helping old and young to help each other bring their best to the table.